Strength for the Journey: “Shooting Blanks” – Numbers 18

pregnant_womenMany Christian mothers – real followers of Jesus in the US today, admit to having a sinking feeling when they watch the news regarding the family. When the leader of our nation stood to proclaim “God bless Planned Parenthood!” many of them turned our heads, and across the nation – mom’s mouths dropped open. One of the most desperate injustices in our nation since the enslaving of the black man was just enshrined in a “Christian blessing” – and the sense of outrage for many was nearly unbearable. “What are we to do?” they asked across the web. No… this isn’t a partisan tirade about the President, nor a speech at a political fundraiser. Yet, the church, once the conscience of the nation, seems muddled in its response to truth on this Mother’s Day.

We celebrate motherhood in America – but we no longer revere it. We see child-bearing as an issue of convenience, not a privileged act. How dare we stand back in horror when women who were instructed that the life within is not sacred if not convenient, decide to have the baby but not raise the child well! Casey Anthony partied while her baby was not cared for – so said a public that largely condones that young women’s abortive rights. Yet it stands to perfect reason – if the very birth is subject to convenience, why not relegate the child as it is raised to the precinct of convenience? Why set aside time from a career to nurture a child if that little one is for my benefit, and should fit into my plan? Why give up prestige, position, influence and even fun – for the sake of a child – if they are supposed to be an extension of that which is convenient? With the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of unborn, we are training a generation how to think about their offspring – whether or not we intend to. We are taking the holy and blessed act of procreation and making it into an optional activity set to the whims of style and convenience.

Again, we look at a moral issue, and we are tempted to feel lost and powerless… and we are NOT. There IS an answer more powerful than protest, and more proactive than painful muttering. We can prayerfully, powerfully and purposefully engage our world with Jesus – and we MUST. As we study together, I hope it will become clear exactly what I mean by that – as it oozes from the Word’s lesson today.

Believers don’t want to back up further – we want to make an impact on our culture that is sliding over the moral edge. At the same time, we may feel like it isn’t working well. Can you identify with this story?

The leadership guru John Maxwell shared a story about a man at Pearl Harbor. According to John, the man went to a Bible study the night before Japan attacked. At the study, the man was unable to respond to a simple question: “Is there a specific verse or truth from the Bible that you are learning?” He was a Christian, but he was stagnant – and there was nothing coming to mind. Early the next morning, December 7, 1941, the Japanese attacked. Strikingly, the guns on the ship he was aboard were all filled with blanks. The man aimed and fired for some fifteen minutes at the attacking force with fake ammunition. He gave his best aim, but had nothing to shoot that would help the situation.

In some ways, that is much of the body of Christ in America at this moment. There are reasons, and there are remedies. Why are we in the slide without power?

Our nation is filled with prayer-less churches. The smallest gathering in any church – even the best ones – is a prayer meeting. It is boring to many. It isn’t immediately fulfilling to some. “It takes too much time”, others say. We seek to do battle with the attacks of our enemy by placing on our armor, but abandoning the last part of Paul’s teaching to the Ephesians, when he said: “Praying always”.

Our nation is filled with needy churches. People who have been trained to hear self-improvement rather than self-discipline fill our pews. “What is in it for me?” worship has largely unseated “What does my Master desire?” services. We comes seeking a miracle, not the Miracle-worker. We come looking for a healing, but not truly desiring the Healer. Many of us, if we truly admit it, are here – year after year – in the church of need, and the church of self. If we felt no particular need, our attendance would be optional.

Our nation is filled with distracted churches. We are too often focused on joy in the wrong life. We are so active in bringing Heaven and its delight into the present world, we have lost the sense that fairness and free-flowing constant blessing is the promise of the world AFTER this one. We speak of Heaven at funerals, but swiftly turn back to earth for almost every other occasion. Prosperity has pulled our eyes from ABOVE to the earthly horizon beneath.

Consequently, our nation is filled with CLOSING and SHRINKING churches. It is not that the Devil has been found to offer something better. Our streets are not safer without the message of the Gospel. Our universities and schools do not produce more generous, more selfless, more gentle students without Christ. There is a brutishness and hardening to the effects of Darwinist philosophy.

Yet, our time is NOT DOOMED. We are not without remedies.

We are not alone in the fight. We have the power of the Savior, the union-producing bond of the Spirit, and the sharpened blade of the Word of God. We have an Intercessor, and we are servants of the Creator of all things. We are NOT VICTIMS of a world gone haywire in sin! We are ambassadors in a foreign land – a world that is NOT OUR HOME, and never WILL BE OUR HOME. If we will but heed the voice of the Master clearly recorded in His Word – the sharpened blade of truth will be our guardian as we move forward. He has chosen us to bear fruit, and He has empowered us to accomplish the task of delighting the Father.

To show where God taught this lesson, we want to go back in time to family fight of the tribes of Israel in a place where there was a challenge against the legitimacy of God’s rule over His people.

The smaller issue was the selection of the Aaronic priesthood, the larger issue was clear: Can God make the rules when they are not popular and don’t make complete sense to everyone under them? God responded with a sign of life and new growth for those who would yield. To those who would not, He showed a sign of terrible sickness:

Numbers 17:8 Now on the next day Moses went into the tent of the testimony; and behold, the rod of Aaron for the house of Levi had sprouted and put forth buds and produced blossoms, and it bore ripe almonds. … 10 …the LORD said to Moses, “Put back the rod of Aaron before the testimony to be kept as a sign against the rebels, that you may put an end to their grumblings against Me, so that they will not die.” … 12 Then the sons of Israel spoke to Moses, saying, “Behold, we perish, we are dying, we are all dying!

There issue was WHO GOD CHOSE TO LEAD THEM, our issues are something else. Yet it all comes down to the same basic issue. Is God in charge? The people snubbed God’s Word concerning leaders – and tried to redraw the lines of standards – much like the moral line re-drawing going on in our day with the definition marriage, the right of God to predefine the sexual identity of each person, and the sacredness of human life in every form. The laws of our nation are moving from the familiar base of the Bible to the unchallengeable and brutish worship of the god of science.

God’s response was to reiterate the priesthood, and tell others to pick up a bucket and start helping. He made clear who would care for sin, who would help them in practical service, and who was ineligible to assist in any of the issue. In eternal principles, He is doing the same thing today.

Key Principle: God called US out of our community to act on His behalf and serve Him. We are the hands and feet of Jesus to our neighbors and our nation – and that is where our impact will be most acutely felt – when we do it HIS WAY.

Tucked in a story of Israel in the desert, God offered six important principles about making an impact for God in our generation:

Six Principles to Impact a Generation

Before God did anything else, He showed the people how SIN would be cared for in His system. We have no impact without the message of salvation placed right out front.

1: We will not make an impact until we make clear how sin is dealt with. God appointed interceding priests to interceded and bear guilt for sin, (in the case of the High Priest) directly handling the message of forgiveness (18:1,5,8).

Numbers 18:1 So the LORD said to Aaron, “You and your sons and your father’s household with you shall bear the guilt in connection with the sanctuary, and you and your sons with you shall bear the guilt in connection with your priesthood…5 “So you shall attend to the obligations of the sanctuary and the obligations of the altar, so that there will no longer be wrath on the sons of Israel…8 Then the LORD spoke to Aaron, “Now behold, I Myself have given you charge of My offerings, even all the holy gifts of the sons of Israel I have given them to you as a portion and to your sons as a perpetual allotment.

Clearly, under the Law of God – a Priest was to intercede for a man in matters of sin. A sacrifice was offered to abate God’s wrath – or nothing else mattered. If God is against you – who can be FOR you? That was true them, and is true today. It is important that we understand how SIN is cared for before we try to offer any help to the world. It is the greatest feature of our message – the good news that we can be freed from bondage to selfish service and sinful practice.

Instead of an Aaronic priesthood, we have the Priest who handled the sacrifice at Calvary. Hebrews 5:6 names Jesus as the priest for the believer of the church age. Hebrews 7 clearly argued that He offered a fully effective and complete offering for our sin, and He did it by offering HIMSELF! Hebrews 9:12 (ESV) says: “He entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption.”

Let me be very clear: you must choose to accept God’s priest, or you will suffer – just as those long ago suffered because of their rejection of the priests chosen by God.

Churches that tell you that they alone can offer you salvation, have not accepted the direct relationship we have with one intercessor – Jesus Christ. When a church attempts to stand between you and God and offer salvation only through their procedings, they deny the truth of the Scripture: 1 Timothy 2:5 says: “For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.”

Churches that offer a system of hard work to get to Heaven – some list that you can perform in order to be made right before God, deny the essence of the gift of God in the Gospel: Ephesians 2:8 “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, [it is] the gift of God; 9 not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.”

God gave you a way to know Him – accepting the sacrifice of Jesus on your behalf. We need to deal with sin before we deal with any other issue. At the same time, if you try another way – you will find yourself unaccepted. God makes the rules, and God knows what satisfies Him.

The church must powerfully and unashamedly remind people that Jesus came to save sinners – and we are the very sinners He came to save. We cannot shrink into sermonic “self-help sessions” on Sunday and “helping the poor social philanthropy” through the week to interface with our community – without clear pronouncement of the lost-ness of men and the Good News of Jesus. Without the Gospel, the church is a “mute band of do-gooders” that focus merely on the fallen condition of this world. Yet, it was not that way in the early years. Any careful study of the New Testament will yield this observation: the message preached by the Apostles focused on the life after this one, and the need to have sin dealt with before we stand before God.

2: Impact is muted when we – the servants – do not understand our position and purpose. God gave interceding priests some appointed helpers to act practically care for His ministry (18:2-3, 7a).

18:2 “But bring with you also your brothers, the tribe of Levi, the tribe of your father, that they may be joined with you and serve you, while you and your sons with you are before the tent of the testimony. 3 “And they shall thus attend to your obligation and the obligation of all the tent, but they shall not come near to the furnishings of the sanctuary and the altar, or both they and you will die… 7 “But you and your sons with you shall attend to your priesthood for everything concerning the altar and inside the veil, and you are to perform service. …”

In Israel, Levites helped priests. They were born into the service of God and service to the priest. In the church, you were BORN AGAIN into the service of God and His Priest – Jesus the Messiah. He is the sacrificial lamb, but He is also the Priest of the perfect sacrifice – Himself.

Look at the instructions:

• Put the servants close to the priests (18:2). Is it too much of a stretch of the passage to suggest that the servants of the priest are most effective when they are NEAR the priests? It certainly is TRUE. Your close walk with Jesus will make you effective.

• Make sure the servants attend to the needs of the priests (18:3). We are most effective when we are attending to what our Priest has told us to do!

• The purpose of the servant is to bless the priest – to perform service for Him and to Him (18:6).

• The work of the servant on behalf of the priest is a holy work for which he was selected. It is the stewardship of an entrusted and vital work of caring for men and women God is forgiving and growing (18:7).

As long as we believe the focus of the Christian message is really about God serving US – we will miss our role as servants of God. When we grasp that we are His workmanship, created to do the works that please Him, we will begin to make a real difference in our workplace, and our community. Servants of self with theological training and a healthy vocabulary of “God words” help no one. We cannot drive forward safely while focused on ourselves in the mirror.

3: Impact is hampered when servants don’t accept that the Master alone makes the rules. Here is the fact: No servant could be from the outside (18:4, 23).

God was less concerned with seeming democratic and inclusive than many are in the modern church today. He was less worried about a recruiting job, then He was about making sure those who were serving we TRULY THE ONES HE CHOSE to do so. There was a very important and unbendable restriction…

18:4 “They shall be joined with you and attend to the obligations of the tent of meeting, for all the service of the tent; but an outsider may not come near you….23 “Only the Levites shall perform the service of the tent of meeting…”

• Her worship team bands must come from among believers – for one cannot lead in worship if one does not have a relationship with God in Messiah.

• Her operations, services and missions must be staffed solely with those who have been BORN into that service – no outside will do. That may seem to the world bigoted, intolerant and undemocratic… but God’s work is not up for a vote. God is still under the impression that what He created is for Him and He can establish the rules over it.

God said only Levites could serve in the Tabernacle. Period… Now let’s be honest: God seems a bit “out of touch” here, don’t you think? He doesn’t seem to realize that some of the more talented singers may not have been born Levites! A few Asherites could really carry a tune…

Here is the problem: Every attempt to make different rules than the Master is another manifestation of the spirit of mutiny within man. I hear echoes of how women shouldn’t be restricted from the Pastorate because they are so capable and so talented – and so educated. How intolerant to take the clear arguments of the Bible and stand by them when there is such a shift in public understanding!

Let me say it lovingly, but clearly. The church doesn’t belong to us, and we don’t get to write the rules. God already did. The same arguments used to invite women into the Pastorate could be used to invite Asher’s children into Tabernacle service. If we aren’t going to follow clear, concise and pointed argument of the Scriptures as we define our church polity – we aren’t going to follow what God expressly said. When we make up our own rules, people in our culture may be more comfortable, and we may seem more relevant. The fact is, however, our work for God becomes in that moment our work for our community, and our own acceptance. It isn’t HIS WORK unless we do it HIS WAY. Every compromise of God’s Word – even when it is well received by the world – kills the believer’s ultimate impact.

4: Impact is enhanced when servants are fully dependent on their Master for provision. God commanded a means of provision for His servants (18:9-19).

God indicated four precious promises concerning His provisions to the Levites:

God’s provision is holy – it should not be accepted lightly. We should be ever so thankful for the richness of God’s provision for us and our families. We are servants, and our Master has cared for us well: 18:9 “This shall be yours …[it] shall be most holy for you and for your sons. 10 “As the most holy [gifts] you shall eat it; every male shall eat it. It shall be holy to you. We don’t WORSHIP the provision – we use it. At the same time, as we do, we recognize the distinctive importance of using it well.

God’s provision is encouraging because it is one of the many ways we see Him keep His word. 18:11 “This also is yours, the offering of their gift, even all the wave offerings of the sons of Israel; I have given them to you and to your sons and daughters with you as a perpetual allotment. Everyone of your household who is clean may eat it… 19 … It is an everlasting covenant of salt before the LORD to you and your descendants with you.” Believers serve our Priest, our Master. He gives us the food we eat, the water we drink, the air we breathe. He has abundantly blessed us above most any on the earth. We must see it as His way of fulfilling His Word. Remember, salt in the Bible was a symbol of LOYALTY – and it is God’s faithfulness that keeps us supplied!

God’s provision is rich – He has not tossed loose scraps at us but wonderfully blessed us! 18:12 “All the best of the fresh oil and all the best of the fresh wine and of the grain, the first fruits of those which they give to the LORD, I give them to you. … 14 “Every devoted thing in Israel shall be yours. How very good God has been to His servants! What a wonder to know His love, His provision, His care!

God’s provision is from His property – it is from God’s own portion – and we should handle it as we would HIS property! We use what He allows. We set aside for Him as He commands. 18:15 “Every first issue of the womb of all flesh, whether man or animal, which they offer to the LORD, shall be yours; nevertheless the firstborn of man you shall surely redeem, and the firstborn of unclean animals you shall redeem. 16 “As to their redemption price, from a month old you shall redeem them, by your valuation, five shekels in silver, according to the shekel of the sanctuary, which is twenty gerahs. 17 “But the firstborn of an ox or the firstborn of a sheep or the firstborn of a goat, you shall not redeem; they are holy. You shall sprinkle their blood on the altar and shall offer up their fat in smoke [as] an offering by fire, for a soothing aroma to the LORD. 18 “Their meat shall be yours; it shall be yours like the breast of a wave offering and like the right thigh.

We are not Levites, but we are still servants of the Great Priest of the Living God. We are not receiving PROMISES in this passage, but PRINCIPLES. As God has dealt in the past with His servants, so He deals now with them – and He has kept a record of these principles to teach us!

Before we lose the illustration provided for us by God, let me mention two more principles that weigh heavily on my heart – when I look at the servants of Jesus today…

5: Impact is lost when servants don’t fully trust – and try to “hedge their bets”. Servants trust in God’s provision – and increasingly learn to have no trust in earthly provision (18:20-21, 23-24).

18:20 Then the LORD said to Aaron, “You shall have no inheritance in their land nor own any portion among them; I am your portion and your inheritance among the sons of Israel…23 … among the sons of Israel they shall have no inheritance. 24 “For the tithe of the sons of Israel, which they offer as an offering to the LORD, I have given to the Levites for an inheritance; therefore I have said concerning them, ‘They shall have no inheritance among the sons of Israel.’

The PROVISION of God came at a price – they wouldn’t be able to get what others around them got. They would have an inheritance from His hand – but none from the common system of their day. That is a huge issue for a servant today – just as it was for them! Let’s be clear: servants that put their trust in this world corrupt their trust in their Master. Hedging bets – one foot in trust of God and another is trust of this world’s supply – is not the way to go. Jesus reminded the wealthy and self-satisfied Laodicean Church that they made Him SICK in Revelation 3.

One Pastor commented in a message I heard long ago: “This is not some brash, rude and obnoxious group of sinners… not a group of murderers, a den of thieves, a meeting of town drunks and lushes, or a brothel of prostitutes in a seedy part of town … Jesus was addressing a church – people organized under the banner of being a force for God. What made Jesus sick to His stomach was a group that wanted to do operate church the way the world operated.” They wanted to focus on THIS WORLD. They wanted to seek RICHES in this life. They couldn’t take a profound stand on issues because they NEEDED APPROVAL in this culture.

I want people to want to be a part of our church. I don’t want to get in everyone’s face and make them uncomfortable. I am not trying to make God’s Word hard, or God’s love ineffective. God says we should hurt for people, and so we do:

• Hebrews 13:3 “Remember them that are in bonds, as bound with them; and them which suffer adversity, as being yourselves also in the body.”

• Proverbs 21:13 “Who so stops his ears at the cry of the poor, he also shall cry himself, but shall not be heard.”

• Luke 6:36 “Be ye therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful.”

Don’t for a moment think that we want to heartlessly and coldly condemn people – that isn’t true. I love the story about the old rabbi:

A rabbi was renowned for his personal piety. One day a devoted disciple was overjoyed meeting him walking on the way to the synagogue. The disciple loudly remarked, “Teacher, I love you!” The old man looked squarely into the face of the student and simply asked, “Do you know what hurts me, my son?” The disciple was puzzled. He stuttered, “I…I don’t understand your question, rabbi. I am trying to tell you how much you mean to me, and you confuse me with your irrelevant question”! “My question is neither confusing nor irrelevant,” retorted the rabbi. “If you do not know what hurts me, how can you truly love me?” 

I love that story because it reminds me that love begins with understanding and ends with help. The mark of a loving Christian is not to feel sorry for those who are in pain—but to help them. Love’s mere speech quickly evaporates but love’s true labor lingers, encouraging even the hurting heart.

I desperately want us to reach people where they are… but it will not be truly spiritually effective if we lose the distinctive voice of the Word – where the power of the Spirit of God is.

6: Finally, real servants have their most lasting impact when they recognize we don’t own even what we use. Even when God provides for the servants, they are to give from that provision (18:25-32).

18:25 Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 26 “Moreover, you shall speak to the Levites and say to them, ‘When you take from the sons of Israel the tithe which I have given you from them for your inheritance, then you shall present an offering from it to the LORD, a tithe of the tithe. 27 Your offering shall be reckoned to you as the grain from the threshing floor or the full produce from the wine vat. 28 So you shall also present an offering to the LORD from your tithes, which you receive from the sons of Israel; and from it you shall give the LORD’S offering to Aaron the priest. 29 Out of all your gifts you shall present every offering due to the LORD, from all the best of them, the sacred part from them.’ 30 “You shall say to them, ‘When you have offered from it the best of it, then [the rest] shall be reckoned to the Levites as the product of the threshing floor, and as the product of the wine vat. 31 You may eat it anywhere, you and your households, for it is your compensation in return for your service in the tent of meeting. 32 You will bear no sin by reason of it when you have offered the best of it. But you shall not profane the sacred gifts of the sons of Israel, or you will die.'”

The gifts of God are given to us to STEWARD and give back to God. At the end, when all my life’s labors are over… when I stand face to face with my Savior, He will measure all my labors. My minutes will be scrutinized by the maker of time. My works will be judged by the One who gave all of Himself for His Father’s glory. IF…and I mean IF…there is ANY good thing I have done when the fire burns away the dross from my life’s work – the crown I will take is NOT FOR ME. It is to be cast at His feet. Can we not clearly see it? We steward God’s gifts and live for God’s honor and glory. It is our purpose, and it is our JOY!

God called US out of our community to act on His behalf and serve Him. We are the hands and feet of Jesus to our neighbors and our nation – and that is where our impact will be most acutely felt – when we do it HIS WAY.

There is a YouTube of Mercedes Benz automobile commercial that shows their safety test facility, and a car colliding with a cement wall. They invented and patented a uni-body construction that effectively makes a head on collision survivable. Many car companies copied the design to get the safety rating improved in testing. It seems to work very well. Someone asked the company spokesman as the car looped visually in crash after crash… “Why they do not enforce your company patent on the energy-absorbing car body? The man replied: “Because some things in life are too important not to share.” That is true. If it is true in regards to safety in this life, how much more in terms of eternal life?

Strength for the Journey: “Redirection” – Numbers 17

redirection2Every good parent knows the idea, if not the term “redirection”. This is the notion of moving a child’s attention from the forbidden thing they are fixated on, to something that will attract him or her back to a safe and secure activity. Let me illustrate:

You are getting ready for a big party. The whole family will be coming, and you have put out the best dishes, and set a beautiful table. You have candles and the nicest platters. You are serving the best foods, and the setting would have made Henry VIII sit down and gird on his napkin. With all the attention focused on the details of the room, you haven’t been paying enough attention to your little toddler. Suddenly you look across the room in horror and see them “teething” on a gravy spoon and walking with a carving knife from the table. You don’t want to alarm the child, because they don’t walk with stability, and this situation is truly life threatening. You quickly move across the room, but you know they will resist giving up a beautiful and shiny object now in their possession. How can you take it from them safely? You swiftly come to the child and your hand swoops down on their favorite stuffed animal lying nearby. You work to both disarm the child, and at the same time, redirect their attention to the “game” you are playing with the stuffed animal. Instead of protesting the loss of the shiny knife, they laugh as you tickle them and make animal noises. Redirection has done its job and you have the unsafe object.

Though the Israelites in the desert were not children, the record of the recent weeks in their journey showed they often acted like they were. As a leader, the last few weeks in Moses’ life were particularly difficult, because of the constant misbehavior of the people. Think back over the last few chapters:

• First, the spies were sent into the land, and their negative report left Israel in tears (Numbers 13).

• Next, open rebellion pressed Moses to fall before God to defend the people and keep them from summary judgment – but in God’s patience the people only stepped up rebellion further. They rushed into the land against Moses’ overt leadership. It was a disaster. The people of God were routed and the enemies were celebrating (Numbers 14).

• In the wake of that fateful decision to fight without God’s direction and presence, God regrouped the people with Moses and presented some new laws. These were meant to both encourage the people that they WOULD be entering the land, and warn the people that future rebellion would need to be faced soberly, with the consequences of sin clearly outlined (Numbers 15).

• Finally, Numbers 16 recounted first how Moses dealt with rebels, and then how God dealt with them. This rebellion left no body bags or burials, the earth swallowed the rebels up in one moment.

No matter how justified these actions were in judgment, they still meant that Moses faced a pummeling series of losses. The innocence of the people was gone, and any illusion that this would be a tranquil journey or an easy acquisition of the land of promise had long since evaporated. This uncomfortably hot and sweaty journey was going to continue, for God was still sculpting a people – and who would make it to the end was very much in question in the leader’s mind.

The people had questions God’s goodness and God’s choices. They didn’t like the menu, they hated the conditions of the journey, they were unsure of the God-appointed leaders, and they grumbled against the apparent favoritism and nepotism involved in the choice to place the priestly offices with the brother of Moses. All this they made very clear. Even in the moments that God’s people were closest to Him – the amazing time of His manifest presence in the desert, they fussed about the circumstances…

At that point God decided to redirect the attention of the people. He refocused them with a simple but powerful tool. He endorsed the leaders and placed a powerful symbol of direction in the midst of His people. He wanted them to quit fussing about how the circumstances appeared to be going, and focus on His direction and His choices. He did it by taking something DEAD and making it ALIVE.

Key Principle: God refocuses wayward people by showing them what He alone can do – creating a NEW LIFE!

In Numbers 17, God used the staff of a man to show His power, direction and approval. God used a stick to show endorsement – bringing empowering new life and productivity to a dead stick.

The Plan Unfolded (17:1-5)

Numbers 17:1 Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 2 “Speak to the sons of Israel, and get from them a rod for each father’s household: twelve rods, from all their leaders according to their fathers’ households. You shall write each name on his rod, 3 and write Aaron’s name on the rod of Levi; for there is one rod for the head [of each] of their fathers’ households. 4 “You shall then deposit them in the tent of meeting in front of the testimony, where I meet with you. 5 “It will come about that the rod of the man whom I choose will sprout. Thus I will lessen from upon Myself the grumblings of the sons of Israel, who are grumbling against you.”

Notice three things about the unfolding of God’s plan in Numbers 17:1-5:

First, God made the plan. It was His work, and Moses was just the person that did the Master’s bidding. Moses didn’t make the plan effective; he just played an obedient role before God.

New life is God’s business. Obedience is our business. In fact, doing the Master’s bidding sets up receiving the Master’s blessing – it has always been this way.

Second, God’s plan was to take all the sticks of the leaders, and approve only ONE stick.

The Lord said to Moses: “Get the staffs of the leaders together and write their names on each. Take Levi’s staff from Aaron and write the name of Levi on it. Put them in the tent of meeting, and I will bring new life out of one – as a demonstration to all where I am at work.” People have a natural default to follow in the world – and it may even seem right – but it isn’t where He is leading. God’s leaders aren’t necessarily the ones the world would choose – but they are His choice. The staffs of each leader were brought to the test, so that God could show His choice. Let’s be clear: God doesn’t choose as men choose – and God’s choice is always best for God’s purpose.

In addition, note the reality that God’s people need to take the time to discern God’s direction, not just a poll from the world of what would have the most popular support – or a decision based on the most pragmatic solution. We need leaders that will stand against culture, when need be – because these leaders are fixed on God’s unchanging Word.

When moral boundaries are fixed by popular sentiment, character cannot be taught by leaders. Character requires absolutes that will stand even in the face of shifting popular morays. Without character, the decisions of any society will keep growing downward. On the bright side, it makes those who live with moral boundaries will truly “stick out”! Candles are brightest in dark rooms.

Third, God was clear on the objective. He said “…that should quiet down the grumbling.”

God knew the distraction of His people was unhealthy because the whining made it impossible for the people to enjoy their walk with Him – and that is what God wanted. God uses believers that offer a positive vision – not an incessant whine of decline and failure. We must trust God, and we must deliberately turn aside anxiety. Worry about the circumstances robs the believer of joy in the walk. This is nothing new, but God’s people need again to be re-directed.

The Pieces Collected (Numbers 17:6-7)

Numbers 17:6 Moses therefore spoke to the sons of Israel, and all their leaders gave him a rod apiece, for each leader according to their fathers’ households, twelve rods, with the rod of Aaron among their rods. 7 So Moses deposited the rods before the LORD in the tent of the testimony.

The Hebrew word for rod in this passage is “matteh”, and it has several meanings. It can mean simply a rod or a stick. Because they were used as both markers and standards – the meaning grew metaphorically to be a staff, or even a tribe. Because the rod was at times a means of chastisement – the rod took on a poetic meaning familiar to those of us who misbehaved in a home that believed in corporal punishment (i.e. spanking). In addition, the small staff or shaft of a rod also played the role as a ruler’s scepter in the Biblical world.

In the beginning, it was probably a simple walking stick or staff associated with shepherds. It was a BASIC NEED or a primary symbol of provision – a point made by Ezekiel 4:16: “Moreover he said unto me, Son of man, behold, I will break the staff of bread in Jerusalem: and they shall eat bread by weight, and with care; and they shall drink water by measure, and with astonishment.” (KJV). Eventually, the rod of the patriarch of a tribe came to be a symbol or standard for that tribe. That appears to be what is in view in Numbers 17.

God pulled together all the staff rods of the leaders of each tribe to make a point. Each one was a treasured piece in that part of the camp – a symbol of the authority of that tribe. It was just a stick, but it meant much more to the people of Israel in the camp. Consider some simple truths we can learn from looking at those sticks:

First, the rod lived a natural life but became more important long after it looked like its life was over. It started as a seedling. Over time it grew up from the ground, drinking the modest rains, and weathering the intense Near Eastern sun. Seasons of drought, rain and cold came and went. The tree grew and grew. It sprouted, yielded both blossom and nuts, and stood proudly. One day, someone cut the tree down… and it looked like it would contribute no further to the world. Birds would no longer lodge in the branches. Children would no longer collect the nuts. It was over… or so it seemed. The truth is that when the branch of that tree was chosen to fashion into a staff – the most important days of that wood had just begun. It is important that we remember something about the way God works His plans: it isn’t over until He says it is over. Our lives run the course of man, and the outer man decays – but God can renew our purpose with the rising of each day’s sun.

A second truth, equally valuable is this: in the right hands, even old wood increases in value. In the hands of God’s leader – the stick could be dramatically used to become a snake, or to part a sea. In the King’s use – it could become a scepter of a righteous ruler. In the dry and dirty hands of a shepherd, it can become a powerful weapon or a point of comfort to the sheep. It may be to the world a dried out piece of wood, but in the hands of God – even something that seems worthless can be mightily uses in God’s hand to tell His story.

A third truth that is also worth recalling is this: in support of God’s leader, the stick offered stability and assistance. On a journey, the staff was carried to aid walking, to help with climbing, and to give a third “leg” to add balance when needed. As men aged they grew in wisdom, but their physical stamina and stability needed to be boosted – and the staff helped do that. The staff began as a symbol to the patriarch in his younger years – but became an essential tool in his later years. God provides for our later time by allowing us to shape balancing tools in our earlier walk.

A fourth truth is this: the staff was a symbol of the man’s identity and work. For a shepherd it was his prized tool. For a patriarch of a tribe, it was the symbol passed from his father of an important work. It was the symbol of spiritual and familial authority. God seasoned the man for the position to be used of Him when the body was not as strong as the position. “God’s leaders should be sober, and those who engender respect,” Paul told Timothy. The symbols of authority do little good if the men bearing them don’t live in a way that matches their meaning.

A fifth truth concerning the staff is this: The rod protected a man in peril. The staff supplied a measure of security. In the face of wild animals on the way, the staff could save lives. Confronting selfish shepherds at a well, Moses used his staff to drive away men who harassed the women at the well (Exodus 2). Though a dead piece of wood – it was a valued tool in the hands of a skilled carrier. The simplest things are powerful and useful when God places them into the story.

Let me encourage you for a moment. You might not feel special. You might see your life as mostly over. You may feel more like a dead stick than a living person. I don’t know – it is certainly possible. What I do know is this: in God’s hands your life can be more valuable than ever before. He can transform you into what He can most use right now and right here. If God can make a dead stick into a living snake – He can change you into something dangerous to the enemy. If God can make a dead stick break open the waters of an ocean – He can make from your life something that will ripple across your family’s coming generations. The only catch is this: God only uses the stick that is put wholly into His hands and will be shaped by His intention.

The Power Displayed (17:8)

All the rods were put into the Tabernacle. The text says they stayed there overnight:

Numbers 17:8 Now on the next day Moses went into the tent of the testimony; and behold, the rod of Aaron for the house of Levi had sprouted and put forth buds and produced blossoms, and it bore ripe almonds.

Here is the powerful part of the story… It took only one night in God’s Holy Presence to be completely transformed and renewed. When God touched the dead stick, two things happened that powerfully impacted the story:

First, the dead rod became alive!

All the twelve rods were alike when they were taken into the Tent of Meeting – they were all equally dead. They had been cut away from sap long before. The natural flow of life was over in all of them – until the Author of life had them placed before Him.

• Placed before God and given to Him – death becomes a doorway to something new God wants to do.

• Placed before God and given to Him – valueless trinkets become powerful tools for His kingdom.

• Placed before God and given to Him – simple symbols of human authority are transformed by God’s empowering.

• Placed before God and given to Him – monuments of the past become tools for the future.

Now is the time for the rebirth of what God has done in the past…

• Denominations are fading and whole fellowships are sliding into the foolish pursuit of popularity. In God’s presence they can be renewed and re-established if they will do His bidding.

• Local churches are struggling under the fickle crowds that flow from one hall to the next depending on the menu of the day. In God’s presence they can become powerful places to see God bring new life and new fruit.

• Marriages of so many are just “getting by”. God was there at the beginning altar, but He was not taken home to the daily altar. In God’s presence these homes can renewed as a shelter to the struggling who need to see God at work.

Don’t be weary doing God’s will. Get back into His presence – that is where the power is. Fall on your knees and pull up close. He is there, waiting. He has so much more that He wants to do through you – if you will just let Him!

Second, the dead rod became fruitful!

Look at the end of 17:8! The rod didn’t only blossom, it produce full, ripe fruit! What was impossible with man was possible with God. What would have taken men millions in science grants took God a night without a single test tube or beaker. Why do we doubt the God who bore a child to Abraham and Sarah and later to Zecharias and Elizabeth?

Brothers and sisters, we have learned nothing more than Zecharias of old. We still doubt God’s ability. He calls for prayer, and we supply worry. He calls for trust, and we buy a franchised program that worked somewhere else. He calls for yielded hearts, and we supply overworked hands and anxiety filled minds.

Let’s imagine for a moment a God that is bigger than a Christian publishing house. Let’s set aside the latest songs, the newest authors, the hottest film series, the cutting-edge seminars… let’s see what would happen if we would be serious about quiet, real, fervent, intentional, focused and powerful prayer for our community. Could God reach our town by putting old sticks in a tent? You KNOW He could!!

Now stop and consider how the new life and new fruit took place: the whole transformation occurred in one night!

Stop thinking it will take 100 years to turn this country upside down. It won’t if God decides to do it. It won’t if God finds in us people who are willing to dwell in His presence. One thousand years, a day, a decade – time really isn’t a big deal to an Eternal God. The inventor of time doesn’t need a watch…

What He desires are people who will be IN HIS PRESENCE. I read this story and I have to share it with you. It came from Pastor John Daniel Johnson, and was shared on the web (sermon central illustrations):

A couple of weeks ago, I got home from a long study night at the church and when I walked into the house, I told Jessica, “I need to relax a little bit. I’m going to go relax in the bathtub.” After filling the tub, I sat back and relaxed. I always keep a Bible on the bathroom counter, so while I relaxed, I began reading the Word of God. I don’t know how long I read the Word, but I knew I had been in there so long that the water was getting cold. Right before getting out of the tub, something happened. Now you must understand where this bathroom is in my house. It is located in the middle of the house. There are no windows and when the doors are closed in the hallway, that room can get mighty dark. Well, there I was about to get out of the water and the lights went out at the house. I couldn’t see anything. I still had my Bible in my hand and I didn’t want to get it wet, so I didn’t want to just jump and start feeling for the door knob. I slowly got out of the tub, and started drying off. Immediately, I heard a little knock on the bathroom door. Jessica had already gone to sleep, but [my daughter] Trinity was knocking. She knocked and ask, “Daddy, the lights went out. Are you scared in the dark?” I said, “No baby, I’m drying off. I’ll be out in a minute.” She replied, “Daddy, are you scared in there.” I replied back, “No baby, I’ve got my Bible.” After toweling off, I exited the bathroom and slowly made my way to the bedroom. By this time, Trinity had already awakened Jessica and said, “Mama, the lights went off and daddy said he wasn’t scared because God was in the bathroom with him.” …Out of the mouths of babes. She gets what this passage is teaching.

• We will be productive when we are deliberate about being in His presence. We will bear fruit when we focus more on delighting Him than drawing the praise of others.
• We will have more power when we stay in His presence. We will accomplish what cannot do in the flesh when His Spirit is working powerfully through us!
• We will be able to do in Him what cannot be done apart from Him.
• We will be a powerfully transformed symbol to others of what God can and will do…

But we must remember this ONE TRUTH: The whole transformation only happened when the rod was surrendered to God’s presence.

The passage isn’t finished yet. Look at the end of the story…

Numbers 17:9 Moses then brought out all the rods from the presence of the LORD to all the sons of Israel; and they looked, and each man took his rod. 10 But the LORD said to Moses, “Put back the rod of Aaron before the testimony to be kept as a sign against the rebels, that you may put an end to their grumblings against Me, so that they will not die.” 11 Thus Moses did; just as the LORD had commanded him, so he did.

Can you see it? God wanted the stick of Aaron back in the Tabernacle:

He wanted it to be a symbol – and that meant that Aaron no longer had it at HIS disposal. No one who serves God gets to pull Him into our plans. We surrender to His. Our lives become HIS to use, not the other way around. Believers should WEARY of the teachings that make God fill our lives with trinkets of this world.

God didn’t want Aaron to rely on his old crutch anymore. It was time to trust God to keep him stable in his later years. His own self-carved stick would become a memory, as His new found dependence on God grew day by day.

What if he began to stumble? What if he needed help? He could always recall what God did with a stick submitted for single night to His presence. He could remember that God made His direction clearest when troubles were at their worst. In the dark of a night God moved quietly in the Tent of Meeting. No fanfare, no video… just a stick in the dark touched by a God of limitless power and extraordinary wisdom. Joy came in the morning (Psalm 30:5).

God refocuses wayward people by showing them what He alone can do – creating a NEW LIFE!

Long ago the timber industry created great rafts of loose logs that were floated down the rivers to saw mills. Loggers skipped across the logs watching for a rock or obstruction that could cause thousands of logs to pile up in a huge “log jam”. When a jam was broken the logs would glide smoothly again. Sometimes the jam would be so great that dynamite had to be used to free the key log. If your life is tied up in knots, it may be time for a powerful work of God to “loose” you and transform you!

Strength for the Journey: “Acceptable Rebellion” – Numbers 16:20-50

boys in trouble“If you two don’t stop it, I am coming up there with a belt!”, my dad hollered from the bottom of the stairway. I have to say this: it wasn’t really ALL our fault. You see, it was summer, and our bedroom was very HOT. The sun didn’t go down until very late, and we went to bed at what seemed to be a ridiculously early time. We were sweaty and bored. Russ (my older brother) and I didn’t MEAN to get into trouble – it just happened. We would start quietly, talking, laughing, joking… and then things would escalate. A pillow tossed from my bed to his; a sock rolled up and thrown back. Before you know it, there was a brawl, and then noise, and then my father’s voice. It seemed inevitable that we would be punished, because we just COULDN’T seem to do what we were told and go to sleep.

We can all smile, and even nod at the idea that such things are the memories of growing up, and they are so common that we have come to accept rebellion as a fact of life. It seemed harmless, and the sound of the story seems almost PETTY. The truth is: it was neither. It was a sign that two boys cared more about what felt natural at the time, and less about respecting their father. Though we all understand it, we don’t all recognize how serious even the simplest rebellion truly is. We grow up in a world of selfish mutineers, and our eyes adjust to the darkness of the room. Rebellion doesn’t SEEM like such a big deal – but it is to our Father in Heaven. It is “like the sin of witchcraft” the Prophet Samuel (1 Sam. 15:23) told King Saul long ago.

Here is a critical problem that even believers must soberly consider: We have become so familiar and so at ease with rebels and rebellion that we have grown tolerant of its grip in our walk with God. We allow “deviations” from His Word to go un-checked in our heart. We laugh at the lewd comment, congratulate the destructively sarcastic voice, and even entertain in our heart the necessity of deceiving others. We don’t discipline our thinking, and we, at times, openly rebel before God – even though others cannot see it. God’s Word convicts; and we suppress it. God’s Spirit leads; and we quench His pull. God’s people need; and we deny them in cold selfishness. All the while we use the cover of God talk to keep others from knowing how very rebellious our heart has become. Rebellion, for many of us, has become acceptable at some level. We have forgotten that God has no acceptable level of rejection to His authority in our lives.

Key Principle: Rebellion has real consequences – and God is the One who brings those results to pass. He gives opportunity to repent, but that has a limited time.

“It is no secret what God can do”, the old song goes. The writer was talking about His mighty acts and wonderful grace – but that isn’t the whole story. We often forget what God can and will do in our rebellion. We walk as if there is no judgment, and live as if there is no reckoning…but there is.

As a Pastor, I get to share much about God’s rich love and grace to the undeserved. He certainly cares for us, and we certainly don’t deserve His tender mercies. At the same time, some parts of the Scripture are designed for one purpose – to remind us not to presume on God’s grace. We are not to assume that God will stand by and say nothing while we play in our sin. We must not misread His great patience with either overlooking our sin, or approving of our choices. His delay is our opportunity to change – not to play as the mice without the cat.

I know that God is incredibly patient and wonderfully loving. I also know He is, popular sentiment aside, the Final Judge of all. In the context of His Word, the term “judgments”, or MISHPATIM normally refer to the repentant remedies for sin in passages like:

Psalm 19:7 The law of the LORD is perfect, restoring the soul; The testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple. 8 The precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart; The commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes. 9 The fear of the LORD is clean, enduring forever; The judgments of the LORD are true; they are righteous altogether.

Passages like these are more referring to God’s way of restoring us in His Word, then being our JUDGE. At the same time, there is a concerted effort in some quarters of the church today, to stop being clear that God IS a Judge – and an absolutely untainted and Holy One at that. It is inescapable for a follower of God’s Word. Near the end of all things in the Bible is the setting recorded in Revelation 20:

Revelation 20:11 “Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat upon it, from whose presence earth and heaven fled away, and no place was found for them. 12 And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and books were opened; and another book was opened, which is [the book] of life; and the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to their deeds. 13 And the sea gave up the dead which were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead which were in them; and they were judged, every one [of them] according to their deeds. 14 Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. 15 And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.”

The passage includes these details:

1. There is coming a time when God will judge all that have refused to follow Him in this life.
2. They will try to flee, but there will be no place to hide.
3. It won’t matter how much money they controlled on earth, or how much of a celebrity they had become in this life.
4. The fact that they were not in the Lamb’s Book of Life – the book of those who have surrendered their life to Christ – determined their destiny.
5. The works they did in this life – whether attempting to be altruistic or overtly evil – will determine some aspect of their eternal place apart from God.

So before we look at our text today, it is essential that I make one thing perfectly clear: God DOES love you – but there is a time limit on your response. Our lives WILL end. We will stand before our Maker. There is no choice about that. There IS a choice concerning the Lamb’s Book of Life. Your name, my name, anyone’s name CAN be written there – but that will only happen if we respond to God’s loving gift – the life blood of His Son – killed as a sacrifice Lamb on our behalf. NO bargaining takes place at the throne of God. NO ONE gets in without the condition of surrender in this life. Listen to the Words of Revelation 20:15 again: “And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.”

Why start with such stern warnings? When you approach critical concepts in an ever-bending moral environment – absolutes must be carefully highlighted. A RADIOACTIVE MATERIALS sign is an absolute. If you ignore it – it will hurt and eventually KILL you. You cannot negotiate with the results of defiance against the sign. Your intentions aren’t the issue. It is an absolute. So is the judgment of God against rebellion. Let’s take a look at an example from our story with Moses in the desert:

We are standing at the tent of meeting. Korah, a few Reubenite friends, and two hundred and fifty well known leaders have rebelled against Moses. They have forgotten God’s call of the man, and they have overlooked God’s power through the man. They are SURE they could overrule him and do a better job. God responds powerfully in seven ways:

1: God is not silent in rebellion – He will stand up against wrong (Numbers 16:20).

Numbers 16:20 Then the LORD spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying…

The Lord spoke out. That was comforting to the follower of God in the scene, and is still comforting to a follower today. We treasure that God will set aright the maligning accusations against our faith and our Lord. We struggle to stomach, sometimes, the filth people say about our Savior, and their Creator. It is HARD to muster up real compassion toward people that flaunt their rebellion in our day – but we must have God’s heart for them. When we want to use anger, we need to ask for GRACE. It was that grace that brought us to Christ – and we must no wish hell on anyone – regardless of how much their actions taunt us.

Let me remind the skeptics among us that God’s judgment on our lives and even our nation is not always immediate. It is often not as pronounced as a thunder from Heaven – God has MANY tools in His toolbox – and often He allows things to play out. I cannot help but be reminded of God speaking to Abraham.

Genesis 15:12 Now when the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram; and behold, terror [and] great darkness fell upon him. 13 [God] said to Abram, “Know for certain that your descendants will be strangers in a land that is not theirs, where they will be enslaved and oppressed four hundred years. 14 “But I will also judge the nation whom they will serve, and afterward they will come out with many possessions. 15 “As for you, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you will be buried at a good old age. 16 “Then in the fourth generation they will return here, for the iniquity of the Amorite is not yet complete.”

There it is. God said the Amorites in the land of Canaan were not “done sinning”. They needed more time for rebellion – but the clock was ticking…

Dear ones, God is not forever silent on rebellion. Every day we wait to repent is an imposition on an uncertain grace period. The Lord spoke in HIS TIME to Moses and Aaron.

Let me ask a pointed question: If Jesus walked in to the room where you are seated, right now, would you be HAPPY to see Him? Would you shrink back because there is something you are involved in that HE KNOWS and YOU KNOW dishonors Him? Is there a quiet rebellion that you are hiding, that when you see HIM will be startlingly and clearly uncovered? Are you presuming on God’s grace today?

2: God’s call to His people in rebellion is to get away from the defiant (16:21).

Look at Numbers 16:21 “Separate yourselves from among this congregation, that I may consume them instantly.”

God told Moses that toleration of blatant rebellion among the people of God is dangerous, and can draws us into sinful responses. God’s words were intended to underscore the way God felt about the mutiny of His people. He did not act on them, but He COULD act – ask Ananias and Saphira! God is perfectly capable of immediately ending the rebel and his or her rebellion – don’t forget that. All of us are only a few heartbeats away from seeing God’s face.

God told Moses, “Step away and I will fix this right now!” Don’t be shaken, God was not only at work on the people – He was at work on the leader. Moses rose to the people’s defense, and God used this to allow him to again grow in love for the people – no matter that their rebellion was also a personal attack against MOSES. Think of it! The story began with them illegitimately putting Moses on trial – and soon spiraled into the ACCUSED defending the ACCUSER before the Judge. What a scene!

Stop for a moment, though, and recognize the principle involved in God’s pronouncement to STEP AWAY. Toleration of sin is not the best strategy – dealing forthrightly is. Churches that pride themselves on LOVING past sin should consult 1 Corinthians 5 and recall that moral perversion, when allowed among God’s people, does more damage than asking the rebel to LEAVE.

“Judgy!” the world will charge. “Intolerant!” they will say. Yes, it is true. Stepping away seems harsh, and unloving. So did God’s striking down the liars in the Book of Acts. When did the REBEL get more rights than responsibilities toward God in our thinking? When did their right to continue to rebel start to seem more important to us than the recognition that not challenging them would hurt the next generation? I suspect we know that our churches have been deeply eroded in unbiblical ideology of the flawed tolerance.

The words to Moses were: “Step away!” I have a work I am about to do. Moses pleaded for the people, but it the end he backed away from the tents of the leaders. Today’s church needs to consider this pattern and be forewarned.

Let me ask you: Are you mixing with people who claim to be believers but are defiantly acting in rebellion to God’s Word? Plead for them, but don’t act like God is ok with your compromise of “loving them past their sin” – because He is not.

3: God can choose to show mercy, and we should always desire that He would. (16:22).

Numbers 16:22 But they fell on their faces and said, “O God, God of the spirits of all flesh, when one man sins, will You be angry with the entire congregation?

Let me take a moment and switch sides. While God’s people are not to compromise with rebels, and while we should not let them walk in our ministries unchallenged – we also need to learn to LOVE THEM. God doesn’t want to stir anger in us, or make us a people who seeks vengeance. He wants us to be distant from sinful actions, but tender toward people. Moses looked beyond those who were involved in transgression (which is hard to do when we are attacked) and spoke of those who did nothing wrong. They may have been followers, and they may have been deceived by the leaders. Yet, Moses pleaded for their safety and rescue.

When we lump people together – an offender and those with the same ethnicity, same physical features, same background – we forget that the people we are lumping are people too.

• I believe that every person that rejects God as their Creator in favor of some pseudo-science model of evolved star-dust is WRONG. I will oppose their view. At the same time, I must not demean them – but show LOVE.

• I believe that every person that has been raised to believe the Bible is wrong and the Koran is right is terribly WRONG. I oppose their view – as they oppose mine. At the same time, I will not summarily call them vicious names. I will address their IDEAS, but I must learn to practically and carefully speak the truth in LOVE.

• When the gay pride activist accuses me of intolerance – I will accept honestly that I do not believe it is correct for me to tolerate behaviors I believe Biblically are deviations from God’s design. I will not make fun of them for their lifestyle choices. Nor will I sit idly by while they foist their notion of amoral sexuality on our school systems. I will defend our children, speak the truth of God’s Word, and stand in defense of truth – but not without LOVE. My gay neighbor won’t be won to Jesus if all they see are my placards and all they hear is my defense of marriage.

The best ‘defense of marriage act’ I can endorse is building a good marriage in my own home. It is being a good and loving husband. It is building up my wife. I cannot be enraged at the White House’s position on marriage if the position in my own house isn’t sharp and clear.

There is a loving way to communicate truth, and there is a self-satisfying way to swipe at people and push them away. San Diego Gay and Lesbian Community News reported this:

The Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kansas, has sparked national outrage because of the protests it has staged at military funerals, which have included showing up with signs that read “Thank God for dead soldiers” and “God hates you.” The church argues that U.S. war deaths are God’s punishment for the nation’s tolerance of homosexuality. Whether a soldier was actually homosexual is not an issue for the church’s leaders.

Can I lovingly but pointedly suggest that their tasteless and harsh comments do nothing to help the cause of Christ? Jesus doesn’t need a HIT SQUAD – He is perfectly capable of making His own point. He did it at the Cross. That group may or may not be a part of God’s church – but they just don’t get it. I suspect their actual ANGER is not FOR GOD’S WORD – but because they HATE that people are messing up their country. I think if you look closely, there is more of SELF in their statements than SHARING.

Go back to Moses’ response in verse 22. He fell on his face. He dropped to the dust before God for the people that HATED his leadership and wanted to boot him out of the camp.

Let me ask you this: Do you get so mad at people as a group that you cannot see them as individuals that need Christ? Thank God He didn’t take us as a group – one size fits all.

4: God responds to our learning – but still will ultimately judge sin (16:23).

Numbers 16:23 Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 24 “Speak to the congregation, saying, Get back from around the dwellings of Korah, Dathan and Abiram.'”

Now I must switch sides again. I must not get so lost in love that judgment fades. Not to spoil the movie, but the ground was about to rumble in our story…We must understand that God is not only patient, He is just. He will not allow flaunting rebellion to go on and on. There is a last day for those who will not yield to Him.

Look carefully at what the Lord said to Moses. He NAMED the leaders. He marked the houses. He wasn’t unsure about what happened in the camp, and He wasn’t unclear about WHO was leading the charge. It is FOOLISH to attempt to hide from an ALL SEEING God.

5: God knows His people get tangled in rebellion – that is the purpose of His warnings (16:25-26).

Numbers 16:25 Then Moses arose and went to Dathan and Abiram, with the elders of Israel following him, 26 and he spoke to the congregation, saying, “Depart now from the tents of these wicked men, and touch nothing that belongs to them, or you will be swept away in all their sin.”

There are two aspects to this moment that I think are worthy of mention.

First, God made clear He was about to act, and wanted those who had been passive and followers to make a choice to distance themselves from those involved in active rebellion. God’s warnings are purposeful. When we camp with rebels who claim to be speaking for God’s direction, we offer a tacit nod of approval to their foolishness – and others who are less discerning are drawn in without challenge. Let me clear here: God warned Moses, and Moses warned people… “Step away. Don’t take any of what they have with you. Step over the line and don’t go back.” We must be LOVING but we must be CLEAR. Great is the temptation for leaders of our day to be inclusive and non-confrontational – even when boundaries are crossed. Leaders must lead. They must draw lines and live with them. They must make every effort to help people see the beauty of God’s truth – but that can only happen if we present it clearly and without compromise.

Note the end phrase “swept away in their sin”. Had the church in my generation held the line on the horror of divorce among believers; would our statistics be so close to that of the world in failed marriages? I don’t think so. When we soften out of warped tolerance, we spread disease in the camp for the generation to follow.

Second, He was publicly pronouncing the last moment for the rebels to surrender. Here is the richness of love – that even in warning there is opportunity. What would have happened if Dathan or Abiram would have looked to Heaven, rent their garb and cried out for mercy to God? Do you honestly believe that would change the end of the story? I KNOW you do – because it changed the end of many of our life stories.

6: God validates His work – if you will take the time to watch (16:27-35).

Numbers 16:27 So they got back from around the dwellings of Korah, Dathan and Abiram; and Dathan and Abiram came out [and] stood at the doorway of their tents, along with their wives and their sons and their little ones. 28 Moses said, “By this you shall know that the LORD has sent me to do all these deeds; for this is not my doing. 29 “If these men die the death of all men or if they suffer the fate of all men, [then] the LORD has not sent me. 30 “But if the LORD brings about an entirely new thing and the ground opens its mouth and swallows them up with all that is theirs, and they descend alive into Sheol, then you will understand that these men have spurned the LORD.” 31 As he finished speaking all these words, the ground that was under them split open; 32 and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them up, and their households, and all the men who belonged to Korah with [their] possessions. 33 So they and all that belonged to them went down alive to Sheol; and the earth closed over them, and they perished from the midst of the assembly. 34 All Israel who [were] around them fled at their outcry, for they said, “The earth may swallow us up!” 35 Fire also came forth from the LORD and consumed the two hundred and fifty men who were offering the incense.

There is little I need to say about God’s moment to act. It happened in the scene, and it will happen in our country, and in our lives. I am not saying that California will collapse into the sea – though I don’t rule it out. I am saying this: The longer we continue to ignore God’s opportunities to step back from our rebellion and rejection – the worse the conditions will get for those who know what RIGHT and WRONG are.

7: God’s call to righteousness and His judgment of sin should be remembered by His people (16:36-50).

Look at the last part of the chapter. Numbers 16:36 Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 37 “Say to Eleazar, the son of Aaron the priest that he shall take up the censers out of the midst of the blaze, for they are holy; and you scatter the burning coals abroad. 38 “As for the censers of these men who have sinned at the cost of their lives, let them be made into hammered sheets for a plating of the altar, since they did present them before the LORD and they are holy; and they shall be for a sign to the sons of Israel.” 39 So Eleazar the priest took the bronze censers which the men who were burned had offered, and they hammered them out as a plating for the altar, 40 as a reminder to the sons of Israel that no layman who is not of the descendants of Aaron should come near to burn incense before the LORD; so that he will not become like Korah and his company– just as the LORD had spoken to him through Moses.

God defended the integrity of His Word among His people. He did it dramatically – but it wasn’t over yet. People can be traumatized one minute and forgetful the next. God told them to make a memorial. They were to put it at the place of the altar, where sin was dealt with. It was to be a clear reminder to FOLLOW THE ONES GOD PUT IN CHARGE of the offerings for sin and celebration. People WILL forget great moves of God. Hadn’t they already overlooked the MANNA, the CLOUD, the PILLAR OF FIRE, the PARTING OF THE SEA – just to name a few.

Let’s be honest… when God isn’t interrupting our day with powerful judgment, we forget that He can… and He will. Very quickly we start explaining away what God did, and often misplace the power.

Strangely enough – the blame is often misplaced on someone other than God. Keep reading:

Numbers 16:41 But on the next day all the congregation of the sons of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron, saying, “You are the ones who have caused the death of the LORD’S people.” … 49 But those who died by the plague were 14,700, besides those who died on account of Korah. 50 Then Aaron returned to Moses at the doorway of the tent of meeting, for the plague had been checked.

Moses made it clear in 16:28 that what God was doing was NOT man’s work, yet the people blamed him anyway. We see this phenomenon with Ahab and Elijah – the misplacing of the guilt.

Our society tempts us constantly with the siren’s song of victimization:

• It isn’t your fault you lost your property – it was the market that made you speculate and take the risk.

• It isn’t your fault that your marriage failed – you didn’t have good role models growing up.

• It isn’t your fault that you lost the job – the work was hard and your boss wasn’t very understanding…

We even excuse our choices and behaviors in pregnancy, as if we didn’t understand our actions and the results! We are trained to look for someone to blame and not take responsibility for our actions.

• If you are poor – you lacked opportunity.

• If your school work is substandard – your teacher was not understanding enough.

Believers need to step away from that system and take responsibility for our choices in life. We have a heritage of those who DID:

Ambrose the historian passed a tradition about St. Lawrence who was martyred in the year 258 CE. A persecution against the church was going on, and the Governor of Rome took the Roman Bishop Sextus captive and demanded, “Where is the treasure of the church?” He would not tell, and they tortured him and beheaded him. Soon after, Roman authorities took a Deacon now called St. Lawrence captive. He held the purse for the distribution to the poor and needy. “Where is the treasure of the Church?” his captors demanded, threatening with the same fate that befell Sextus. Lawrence replied, “Governor, I cannot get it for you instantaneously; but if you give me three days, I will give you the treasure.” The governor agreed. Lawrence was released. Three days later he walked into the governor’s courtyard followed by a great flood of people. The Governor walked out onto his balcony and said, “Where is the treasure of your church?” Lawrence stepped forward, and pointed to the crowd that accompanied him – the lame, the blind, the deaf, the nobodies of society – and said, “Behold in these poor persons the treasures which I promised to show you; to which I will add pearls and precious stones, those widows and consecrated virgins, which are the church’s crown.” He was killed for the answer. A popular tradition shared that he was grilled on a gridiron for the cause of Christ.

Gutsy, wasn’t he? Not really. He was convinced that God chose him for that hour. The same Jesus that saved him was giving him a chance to present God’s treasure of people to lost men and women. Who knows? Maybe in doing so, some who watched and listened were saved. Maybe their eternal fire was quenched under the grill of his temporal one!

Sin has real consequences – and God is the One who brings those results to pass. He gives opportunity to repent, but that has a limited time.

Strength for the Journey: “Hidden Agendas” – Numbers 16 (Pt.1)

hidden_agendaAs we come back for more fun with camels and campfires in the life journey of Moses – we will get a window in this lesson to something that runs beneath the surface of our relationships and even our thoughts. All around you are people with hidden agendas. They may be so well hidden; they don’t even know they have them. Lurking beneath our conscious thinking, every person has both a set of hidden prejudices and some defining emotional hungers that dominate their value system. We like the people we like, and dislike others – because of that hidden current beneath us. Many of our choices in life are subconsciously governed by a simple desire to have an emotional need met. We may not be aware of how it was formed – but we live in its significance and many of our responses and behaviors are rooted in it.

Researchers have identified some of the most significant underlying pulls – and have discovered they were most often formed from childhood memories, relationships and especially traumas. Some part of the current is inborn and genetic, but clearly much of it is not. To be clear, consider what emotional pull motivates your responses. Do you feel a deep inner pull:

• To be loved? (hunger for affirmation and affection)
• To be healthy? (hunger for longevity and personal strength)
• To be correct? (hunger for personal perfection)
• To understand? (hunger for knowledge)
• To be wealthy? (hunger for the material choices)
• To believe? (hunger to find a trustworthy source)
• To know? (hunger for certainty in life direction)
• To love? (hunger for someone to share life with)

Since each of us has an underlying value current, we also have along with it a HIDDEN AGENDA. That agenda is our attempt to create the conditions where that reality will flourish – where we close in and control our life situation to get our emotional need met – or at least feel like it is getting met. Now, this isn’t a psychological seminar, it is a Bible lesson. At the same time, we have to admit that our relationships are often seen through the prism of our own agenda. Mature believers meditate on God’s Word specifically because the heart is deceitful – the Bible says you cannot trust what you THINK you know about yourself. We need the Spirit to turn the light on in the recesses of our heart – even for ourselves.

I mention this because I want to recount a story about a group of followers that secretly, and perhaps even subconsciously, desired to be in charge of the children of Israel – when God had not put them in that position. They weren’t happy with God’s direction, and they didn’t like God’s leadership appointments. They didn’t start off as rebels, but a problem lay beneath the surface of their heart – and it eventually surfaced. It usually does. As water is pulled by gravity to the lowest point, so our hearts are pulled by the emotional currents beneath our conscious mind, to the dark place of self-meeting of our needs.

Key Principle: To follow God, we must reduce our inner desires to one – to please Him. We don’t know what is best – only WHO is best.

The Celebrity Challenge (16:1-3):

Our story opens in Numbers 16 with leaders who rose up and challenged Moses and Aaron for the right to lead:

Numbers 16:1 Now Korah the son of Izhar, the son of Kohath, the son of Levi, with Dathan and Abiram, the sons of Eliab, and On the son of Peleth, sons of Reuben, took [action], 2 and they rose up before Moses, together with some of the sons of Israel, two hundred and fifty leaders of the congregation, chosen in the assembly, men of renown. 3 They assembled together against Moses and Aaron, and said to them, “You have gone far enough, for all the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the LORD is in their midst; so why do you exalt yourselves above the assembly of the LORD?”

First, notice who did the complaining: There was a single Levite and two Reubenite men leading a large group of other leaders. The challenge to Moses’ leadership came from:

• Korah the Kohathite Levite was called by birth to be a servant of the Cohenim (priests) at the Tabernacle. His call was to serve Aaron and his sons – because God said to do it.

• Datan, Abiram and On were Reubenites from the two families of that clan. They were part of the tribe that came from Isaac’s first-born – a natural position that meant leadership and honor in the family system of the day.

• The text is clear that these men influenced profoundly two hundred fifty other leaders of the congregation (16:2). It is equally clear that these men were WELL KNOWN. The work “Shem” translated RENOWN in 16:2b simply means they were “Household Names” or celebrities among the camp.

The first issue of our text is the Source Problem:

One of the mistakes we make when accepting opinions is that we listen to the POPULARITY of the voice rather than the REASON of their argument. The first point made in the text is WHO the men were. To be famous is not necessarily to be right. To be “well thought of” is not the same as “to be thinking well”.

In the day in which we live, we need to be especially careful about the SOURCES of our information. We have mentioned this in other passages, but it is an important lesson here. People in the camp may well have believed that the men and their criticism was justified because they “knew the inside” of leadership in the assembly. The fact is they had an underlying agenda – and their facts were correct. Reubenites may well have wanted to assert themselves because of their birth order issues. A Levite may have just been tired of serving. Be careful to examine what a person says and verify it – don’t just accept it because they wear a “lab coat” or come from the “right university”. I believe fully that science is being fabricated everyday in our society, to make right what is not. Soon studies will be presented to explain genetically human perversion. Studies will be rolled out to prove that people grow up stable and well with two mommies. Science will serve the moral compass – and many will believe the statements because they have great regard for the speakers and their costumes. We are facing again a SOURCE PROBLEM.

Don’t despair. Israelites could have sought God for what was true. Many wouldn’t. Many didn’t. Many won’t today. They will take it from the big names of our time – but not check the facts and challenge the notions with the Word of God and prayer. You have that ability – if you will be vigilant.

The second issue of the text is the Conclusion Problem:

The men already decided all the facts without any dialogue with the accused. They felt they could comprehend more than they did, and they could even read hearts and discern intent – when they could not. Look closely at what the group actually DID when Moses and Aaron stood before them:

Got together: The men called a meeting, and had Moses and Aaron come before them. The men who had not been called by God – but were popular among the people – were calling before them the MEN OF GOD that had stood before God Himself. These very men even stood between God and Israel during times God threatened to wipe out the people. Now they were calling Moses BEFORE THEM, as if their popularity gave them ACTUAL STANDING to challenge the leaders.

They expressed an ultimatum: The men opened with the remark: “THAT IS ENOUGH!” (16:3). Note how they have assumed authority because they have read their own press. God didn’t give them charge over the people. Without Moses they would have been an ash pile by now.

Made a misstatement: The men argued: “for all the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the LORD is in their midst”. It was a half-truth. God dwelt in their midst. The argument implied that because God was the Master of ALL of them, and they were all God’s people – that a democratic decision making process was in order. They presupposed that the people who had been whining and murmuring were somehow prepared to have an equal voice in leadership with Moses and Aaron. Never mind that the people hadn’t met with God personally, been called by God to do this work, or even had a track record of obedience. God’s leaders are called by Him. Their hearts burn with a passion from Him. They can reason from His Word effectively, and have been consistently walking in obedience.

Made accusation: Notice they asked WHY not IF Moses and Aaron exalted themselves. In essence, the jury reached a verdict based on their discussion among themselves, without the accused present. You have seen this before – a group starts discussing people they are collectively angry about, and each person chimes in. Before you know it the room not only has formed an opinion – and they accept their formed consensus as fact. They think they can even argue about what is in a man or woman’s heart, and what their intentions are!

Stop for a moment and look at what was really happening in 16:3. It looked like Moses was “on the ropes” in leadership, and people had just defected and died. He looked ineffective and may have sounded dictatorial when he told the people “Do not leave to go into the land – God is NOT with you.” (Numbers 14:42). In the wake of the body bags and mourning – some of the leaders had ENOUGH!

At the same time, we have been reading the story from the call of Moses in Exodus 3 all the way to this point. The entire challenge of these leaders was based on UNTRUE STATEMENTS built up on INSUFFICENT EVIDENCES. They may have seemed well established, but were NOT facts.

Because everyone around you agrees with your opinion does not mean you are correct – it may only signal that you don’t have a big variety of friends. Moral correctness is not a consensus issue – it is a revelation issue. When God speaks on an issue, the opinions of all others are of no consequence.

Because many in our nation have rejected our heritage of the moral compass found in Scripture, they seek to know what is right by what is popular. So called “leaders” that do this are not leading, they are following.

Let’s get back to the FACTS.

Moses got the job because God gave it to him. He fought against God in the call – claiming he didn’t have what it would take to do it. A true examination of the record would force any reasonable person to conclude that Moses wasn’t HUNGRY FOR POWER – he was being obedient in his work.

How was Moses to LEAD in the face of such rebellion?


First, he addressed the one that he knew was at the heart of the challenge, face to face and in public. Nothing is served by AVOIDING challenges to leadership. They must be answered and they must not be allowed to continue to spread.

Numbers 16:4 When Moses heard [this], he fell on his face; 5 and he spoke to Korah and all his company, saying, “Tomorrow morning the LORD will show who is His, and who is holy, and will bring [him] near to Himself; even the one whom He will choose, He will bring near to Himself. 6 “Do this: take censers for yourselves, Korah and all your company, 7 and put fire in them, and lay incense upon them in the presence of the LORD tomorrow; and the man whom the LORD chooses [shall be] the one who is holy. You have gone far enough, you sons of Levi!


Next, he fell down in humility and brokenness before them. Self-important people aren’t following God’s model of leadership. Moses was a BUSY GUY, and this wasn’t right – but there was little more important in his schedule than answering those who would lead others astray. Moses didn’t need to PROVE to the people anything – God would take care of that. He needed to SHOW the people something… what a GODLY MAN was supposed to act like.

Let me caution you carefully – Don’t do wrong to get a right result. Ends do not justify means. Moses could have LORDED over the people and told them to simply SHUT UP AND GET BACK IN THEIR TENTS. At the same time, his humility directly contradicted their accusation. It wasn’t a put on, Moses really felt undeserving to be the leader, and broken hearted that these men didn’t recognize his burden of leadership wasn’t something he WANTED.


Moses verbalized a solution that was beyond challenge. He simply told the men to “Let the Lord decide” the issue. If they were bound and bent to take a position that God had not given them, he was going to let the TRY to DO what God told them they could NOT DO. Sometimes, the only way for people to really SEE what God wants is to face the problems themselves. No instruction is more effective than on the job training.

As you keep reading, verse seven seems out of character with a man that has been face down in the dirt before men. Moses wasn’t bowing because he was uncertain of his role, but because he didn’t feel DESERVING of the role beyond the call of God. When it was time to speak truth, Moses SPOKE UP. He told them flatly: “You think I have gone too far – that isn’t true. YOU HAVE, and tomorrow that will be very clear. I won’t do it, but you will all see it!”


Moses offered a clear window into the underlying agenda. Watch closely how the passage breaks down the words of Moses and uncovers the hidden agenda beneath:

Levites thought that SERVING THE LORD was less significant than TELLING PEOPLE WHAT TO DO.

Numbers 16:8 Then Moses said to Korah, “Hear now, you sons of Levi, 9 is it not enough for you that the God of Israel has separated you from the [rest of] the congregation of Israel, to bring you near to Himself, to do the service of the tabernacle of the LORD, and to stand before the congregation to minister to them; 10 and that He has brought you near, [Korah], and all your brothers, sons of Levi, with you? And are you seeking for the priesthood also? 11 “Therefore you and all your company are gathered together against the LORD; but as for Aaron, who is he that you grumble against him?”

Moses perceived they wanted something MORE than serving – they wanted to LEAD. This wasn’t hard to see – since they clearly stated that in their complaint. Here is the problem: the leadership of the Tabernacle was not up to Moses – it was established by God. They wanted the position of PRIEST. Again, Moses didn’t choose the line from which the priests were born – God did. When a leader follows the Scriptures and does so with personal humility, the argument is NOT with the man – but with the message. If the message is God’s Word – then the dispute is with God.

Paul warned in 1 Corinthians 1-4 that it is the responsibility of God’s people to follow God’s Word. It is the MESSAGE, not allegiance to the MAN that must be absolute. If Moses made up the rules, then Moses operated out of preferences. If Moses gave them God’s rules – then allegiance to God’s Word would bring allegiance to him. The problem was that the men may not have been aware of the emotional reasons they were in rebellion.


Moses sent a message to the Reubenites:

Numbers 16:12 Then Moses sent a summons to Dathan and Abiram, the sons of Eliab; but they said, “We will not come up. 13 “Is it not enough that you have brought us up out of a land flowing with milk and honey to have us die in the wilderness, but you would also lord it over us? 14 “Indeed, you have not brought us into a land flowing with milk and honey, nor have you given us an inheritance of fields and vineyards. Would you put out the eyes of these men? We will not come up!”

Look how far off the mark the “would be leaders” were in their assessment of the journey to date.

• First, they refused to have a dialogue, but rather thought there was no point to dealing with the issues face to face.

• Second, they bitterly argued with Moses for withdrawing them from the land of promise – but Moses didn’t do it – God did.

• Third, they argued that MOSES had brought them this far into the desert – when he didn’t.

• Fourth, they expressed that Moses did it to let them perish – an untrue assessment.

• Fifth, they accused Moses of Lording over, and even being willing to do violence to them – when he had not done anything of the sort since the murder of the Egyptian in his early life.

Moses asked them to meet, and he opened the door to hearing them out. They took their half-formed arguments and threw them out, without any desire to show any respect at all to Moses. Here is the problem: You can’t lead if you can’t follow. You can’t lead if you can’t show respect. You can’t lead if you cannot disagree in a mature manner.


Moses was miffed. He was publicly snubbed. He wasn’t just disrespected, he was being openly challenged. He was ANGRY, embarrassed and incensed with their lies. What did he do? Did he meditate? Did he gossip? Did he YELL! No, he knew where hurt should go…

Numbers 16:15 Then Moses became very angry and said to the LORD, “Do not regard their offering! I have not taken a single donkey from them, nor have I done harm to any of them.”

God knows our frame – don’t forget that. He knows that no one likes to be lied about. He knows when we feel hurt, when we have been unfairly abused, and when we want to fire back at people in anger. He doesn’t want us to shove it down inside – He wants us to GIVE IT TO HIM. He can take it. We can cry out to Him in frustration and anger, and the Lord will hear us, comfort us and renew us.

One of the great lessons of Christian maturity is how to empty out frustration before God.

Three years ago, Chris Simpson led a white pride march. Two years ago, he abandoned the white supremacist movement. This past April (2012), he was baptized. Chris, a 38-year-old garbage man and former Marine had the words “PURE HATE” tattooed across his knuckles. After the loss of his first child, Simpson had a lot of hatred and anger built up inside. The white pride movement gave Simpson a place to direct his anger and frustration—at people of other races. After he and his family watched the movie “Courageous,” he began attending church. One month later he was baptized as a follower of Jesus Christ. “Any kind of burdens I carried before, I let them go.” Simpson said, “There’s no need to carry things that happen in the past. I forgave all those who wronged me and asked forgiveness from those that I have wronged.” Simpson has left hate behind. He’s even going through the Freedom Ink Tattoo removal program too — starting with the word HATE. (Source: Aaron Aupperlee, “Former White Supremacist Sheds Hate and Embraces Christianity,” The Washington Post {7-2-12})


Moses spoke again to Korah, and he passed on God’s Word faithfully. He said:

Numbers 16:16 Moses said to Korah, “You and all your company be present before the LORD tomorrow, both you and they along with Aaron. 17 “Each of you take his firepan and put incense on it, and each of you bring his censer before the LORD, two hundred and fifty firepans; also you and Aaron [shall] each [bring] his firepan.” 18 So they each took his [own] censer and put fire on it, and laid incense on it; and they stood at the doorway of the tent of meeting, with Moses and Aaron. 19 Thus Korah assembled all the congregation against them at the doorway of the tent of meeting. And the glory of the LORD appeared to all the congregation.

God was ready to solve the problem between them. In our next lesson we will see how He carried out validating the leader and quelling the rebellion. For now, it is enough that we note that Moses did not fail to share the Word with the people as God instructed Him to do. When God’s Word was taken seriously, God’s glory made an entrance.

Moses was NOT to defend himself, nor to please himself by calling on the Lord to destroy His enemies. He was to release the need for revenge before God and wait on God’s pleasure for what happened after. He was to follow the Word of God and live for God’s pleasure – not his own. Moses needed to respond properly. He needed to WIN for God in the real estate between his ears. That is where battles are often won or lost.

Harry Houdini, the famed escape artist issued a challenge wherever he went. He could be locked in any jail cell in the country, he claimed, and set himself free quickly and easily. Always he kept his promise, but one time something went wrong. Houdini entered the jail in his street clothes; the heavy, metal doors clanged shut behind him. He took from his belt a concealed piece of metal, strong and flexible. He set to work immediately, but something seemed to be unusual about this lock. For 30 minutes he worked and got nowhere. An hour passed, and still he had not opened the door. By now he was bathed in sweat and panting in exasperation, but he still could not pick the lock. Finally, after laboring for 2 hours, Harry Houdini collapsed in frustration and failure against the door he could not unlock. But when he fell against the door, it swung open! It had never been locked at all! But in his mind it was locked and that was all it took to keep him from opening the door and walking out of the jail cell. (Sermon central illustrations).

To follow God, we must reduce our inner desires to one – to please Him. We don’t know what is best – only WHO is best. Fall in His arms and let Him fight the unfair battles.

Strength for the Journey: "Building from Ashes" – Numbers 15

Post Apocal 2“There has to be a morning after!” the singer proclaimed. In the 1980s and 90s there were about a dozen iterations of film concerning how the world would recover from devastation “the day after” a nuclear or biological holocaust. When you have lived on the planet for a while, you start to see trends that are both identifiable and at times annoying in theme waves of the entertainment world. Who hasn’t wondered in recent years about the fascination with ZOMBIES? They seem to have replaced the ridiculous excitement concerning the “love lives” of vampires that swept Hollywood a few years ago. By now, wemay have long forgotten, the earlier decades that appeared to be more fixated on the human damage and recovery operations of earth in a post-apocalypse era. Essentially every film of that genre addressed a simple question: “How would man recover emotionally and physically from the struggle of near annihilation?” It seems like a silly exercise for a movie – but makes for good potential screen drama.

This isn’t a rant against Hollywood, it is a reminder of a dramatic moment in the lives of the ancient Israelites. Our story for this lesson is all about rebuilding from the ashes of defeat on the battlefield. They lost badly – but were told not to fight in the first place. They didn’t go WITH God, but in defiance of Him. Disobedience and rebellion did its destructive work. The people passed through the trauma of a defiant rebellion and faced the loss of a whole contingent of people who defied God and snubbed Moses. Numbers 14 doesn’t specify how many left the camp to occupy the Negev, nor how many fell in the battle – but it is clear that many did.

What God offered next was not anger, but help. The remaining people needed to hear anew from God. They needed to know He hadn’t left them in the wilderness to die – but STILL had a plan to get them to the Promised Land. He gave them hope, pressed them to sensitivity, and offered them a helpful reminder of the pledge they held in their hearts as His people.

Key Principle: When we rebel, we need to recall three principles: God isn’t done with us (encouragement principle), our failures can make us more sensitive to other people (empathy principle), and that sin has terrible consequences (effect principle).

Listen to the words that close that chapter:

Numbers 14:39 When Moses spoke these words to all the sons of Israel, the people mourned greatly. 40 In the morning, however, they rose up early and went up to the ridge of the hill country, saying, “Here we are; we have indeed sinned, but we will go up to the place which the LORD has promised.” 41 But Moses said, “Why then are you transgressing the commandment of the LORD, when it will not succeed? 42 “Do not go up, or you will be struck down before your enemies, for the LORD is not among you. 43 “For the Amalekites and the Canaanites will be there in front of you, and you will fall by the sword, inasmuch as you have turned back from following the LORD. And the LORD will not be with you.” 44 But they went up heedlessly to the ridge of the hill country; neither the ark of the covenant of the LORD nor Moses left the camp. 45 Then the Amalekites and the Canaanites who lived in that hill country came down, and struck them and beat them down as far as Hormah.

The act of clear defiance, born out of fear and discouragement, left the ranks decimated and crushed the spirit of the remaining people. The Amalekites and Canaanites were emboldened – and Moses’ leadership both APPEARED painfully weak and, in fact, WAS weak – the people ignored his direct command to stay the impulse to rush off to battle.

The scene after the split was hard, made even harder by news of the crushing victory of their enemies. Yet, God’s Word offered re-direction and hope, as well as a renewed stern warning to follow Him in the days ahead and remember to listen more carefully…

The Encouragement Principle (Numbers 15:1-21)

From the ashes of failure, God beckoned Israel to hear a word of encouragement – He wasn’t finished with them in spite of their failures… they were STILL GOING HOME.

God spoke to Moses and told him to rally the troops and give them some encouraging words. What he said was essentially two new sets of laws for starting well in the land, and in their soon to be new home. Truthfully, on the first pass, this doesn’t look like a pick me up – it appears to be MORE RULES of things to DO. Yet, if you look more closely, you will see the encouragement clearly…

First, Remember you are heading to your new homeland – and My faithfulness will merit new grain and wine offerings added to your regular offerings.

Look closely at what God said, as He shared: “You will be going into the land as promised!”

Numbers 15:1 Now the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 2 “Speak to the sons of Israel and say to them, ‘When you enter the land where you are to live, which I am giving you, 3 then make an offering by fire to the LORD, a burnt offering or a sacrifice to fulfill a special vow, or as a freewill offering or in your appointed times, to make a soothing aroma to the LORD, from the herd or from the flock. 4 The one who presents his offering shall present to the LORD a grain offering of one-tenth [of an ephah] of fine flour mixed with one-fourth of a hin of oil, 5 and you shall prepare wine for the drink offering, one-fourth of a hin, with the burnt offering or for the sacrifice, for each lamb. 6 Or for a ram you shall prepare as a grain offering two-tenths [of an ephah] of fine flour mixed with one-third of a hin of oil; 7 and for the drink offering you shall offer one-third of a hin of wine as a soothing aroma to the LORD. 8 When you prepare a bull as a burnt offering or a sacrifice, to fulfill a special vow, or for peace offerings to the LORD, 9 then you shall offer with the bull a grain offering of three-tenths [of an ephah] of fine flour mixed with one-half a hin of oil; 10 and you shall offer as the drink offering one-half a hin of wine as an offering by fire, as a soothing aroma to the LORD. 11 Thus it shall be done for each ox, or for each ram, or for each of the male lambs, or of the goats. 12 According to the number that you prepare, so you shall do for everyone according to their number. 13 All who are native shall do these things in this manner, in presenting an offering by fire, as a soothing aroma to the LORD.

God’s first word, when repeated to the people, packed a real punch. He began by telling them WHEN YOU ENTER THE LAND – as an underlying assumption. They WERE going to make it there. The people would not be snuffed out in the wilderness. God wasn’t done with them yet. Moses’ pleas with God were effective.

Look closer at what God told them to do WHEN they arrived: When they made any offering by fire – an oleh offering (burnt) or vow offering – whether at a feast or at any other time, they were to add a grain offering of thanks (a shelmim) in recognition that God delivered on His promise to give them the land (15:3-12). It is easy to see this as a NEW RESPONSIBILITY, but it was much more than that. It was both a message that God’s promise would be fulfilled, and that they would be required to REMEMBER His blessing and faithfulness.

Have you ever asked God for something for a long time? Have you ever really cried out to God for something or some situation? We are often much more diligent about remembering our NEEDS before Him than we are at RECALLING HIS FAITHFULNESS for all that God has done for us already.

Which got more of your attention this week: the silly workings of our blinded government, or times of thanksgiving over what God has already done for you? If you are like most of us – thankfulness played less a role than it should have.

Look at the instructions in the first twelve verses of the chapter:

• When you offer, the one who offers the sacrifice should add a tenth offering of a hin (one hin is about five liters) grain and a quarter hin offering of oil (15:4) and add one quarter hin of wine for a drink offering per lamb offered (15:5).
• For a ram, add two tenths a hin of grain with one third hin oil (15:6), and a drink offering of one hin per ram (15:7).
• For a bull, three tenths hin of grain, with one half hin oil and a drink offering of a half fin (15:9-10).

Here is my point: Each of these formulas was SPECIFIC and DETAILED. Did the extra MEMORIAL FOR GOD’S FAITHFULNESS seem haphazard or well planned? I think it is clear that God wanted a very specific remembrance of Him keeping His promise to the people.

The bottom line of these verses is this: God commanded His people NOT TO QUICKLY AND EASILY SLUFF OFF HIS ENDURING FAITHFULNESS IN SPITE OF THEIR FICKLE BEHAVIOR. Remember, many Israelites were just slaughtered for their rebellion. These who were hearing of this set of new commands were their KIN – and they were left to pick up the pieces of the rebellion.

God saw them, and God wanted them to know two things:

• You can trust Me to get you where I promised you I would take you.
• I expect you to take thankfulness seriously.

Can we not see the same God reflected in our lives? Did God not tell the Philippian believers: “He that began a good work in them will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ”? Did not that SAME God tell believers among the early Hebrews (Heb 12):28 “Therefore, since we receive a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us show gratitude, by which we may offer to God an acceptable service with reverence and awe; 29for our God is a consuming fire.” Does it sound like God expects believers to be THANKFUL AS He continues to be FAITHFUL?

Now skip down to verse 17 to see the second kind of new home:

God even made that thankfulness practical in the HOME, and not just the NATION.

Again He offered an underlying encouragement that is implied in the command: “You will be in the land for generations, as you have dreamed.” He said:

Numbers 15:17 Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 18 “Speak to the sons of Israel and say to them, ‘When you enter the land where I bring you, 19 then it shall be, that when you eat of the food of the land, you shall lift up an offering to the LORD. 20 Of the first of your dough you shall lift up a cake as an offering; as the offering of the threshing floor, so you shall lift it up. 21 From the first of your dough you shall give to the LORD an offering throughout your generations.

Here God addressed mothers of households, and daughters that would leave their homes for the home of their new husband. They would take starter dough from momma’s kitchen, and start an new kitchen – for generation after generation. Here God said that the new produce of the land would have a wave offering lifted before Him, out of the goods of the threshing floor. Dough would be burned to the Lord to recall His faithfulness. This pushed the thankfulness from a NATIONAL STAGE, to a personal household.

The ending point of the commands for added offerings was simple: You will go to the land, and you will be there a LONG TIME. You must remember that I have brought you there, and I have kept my promises. In this, the devastated people could face the loss of so many friends, and know that God was not leaving them to die. They could be encouraged.

The Empathy Principle (15:14-16)

With the encouragements in clear view, there is a second lesson of rebellion. From the same ashes of failure, God called on the people to be empathetic – and set ONE STANDARD for those who desire to be a part of them.

We skipped over a few verses that are part of the national law, but they are not unimportant, even in our day…

Numbers 15:14 If an alien sojourns with you, or one who may be among you throughout your generations, and he [wishes to] make an offering by fire, as a soothing aroma to the LORD, just as you do so he shall do. 15 [As for] the assembly, there shall be one statute for you and for the alien who sojourns [with you], a perpetual statute throughout your generations; as you are, so shall the alien be before the LORD. 16 There is to be one law and one ordinance for you and for the alien who sojourns with you.'”

Clearly not all of this passage is about EMPATHY, some related to making sure that non-Israelites respected the Law of God. At the same time, SOME OF THE TEXT reflects a tenderness about those who sojourned with Israel. How do I know? Put the text in context. The people suffered a devastating loss, and they were accompanied by others who now were likely greater in ration than before. In times of loss, scapegoating and blame can rise quickly. God took THIS opportunity to press Israel not to see them as different than themselves. Some have suggested that perhaps the “rabble” of aliens incited the people to rebel – as they had in the past. That is possible. Equally possible is that Israel found it easy to lay the blame at their doorstep.

God’s word to them was this: make ONE SACRIFICE standard. Have ONE LAW for them – the same as you do for all of you. There cannot be two standards of Law and right living. They must JOIN Israel in their walk, or they must not come along. Israel had no business expecting the Amalekites or Edomites to conform to the Laws of God – but they had every right to INSIST those who came with them did. In the same way, believers cannot expect the WORLD to live by our standards – but we can call on those IN THE HOUSEHOLD to uphold standards found in God’s Word. This is the reason that Paul wrote to Corinth:

1 Corinthians 5:9 I wrote you in my letter not to associate with immoral people; 10 I [did] not at all [mean] with the immoral people of this world, or with the covetous and swindlers, or with idolaters, for then you would have to go out of the world. 11 But actually, I wrote to you not to associate with any so-called brother if he is an immoral person, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or a swindler– not even to eat with such a one. 12 For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Do you not judge those who are within [the church]? 13 But those who are outside, God judges. REMOVE THE WICKED MAN FROM AMONG YOURSELVES.

The people needed to keep those who were with them in ONE CLASS – not a lower and less significant or less capable group. They were to expect the same level of decency and adherence to the Word. They were also not to be HARDER on them than Israel. They were to empathize and offer them a sheltering tribe of safety – if they were willing to be like Israel – subject to God’s Word.

The Effect Principle (15:22-41)

God didn’t forget the sin that caused the devastation – He used it to instruct them about themselves. He made clear that there are different kinds of sin.

First, there are individual sins of omission – when the call of God has been ignored. There is a remedy: offering sacrifice and atonement (15:22-29).

Why is OMISSION a SIN and not simply a MISTAKE? Doesn’t EVERYONE FORGET to do right sometimes? Yes, we do. At the same time, our rebellion often comes from NEGLECT – commission of sin often stems from the omission of walking properly and carefully. A careless life is a dangerous one. We need to be reminded of this. This is ESPECIALLY TRUE of those who lead:

By Leaders: It is also essential that we understand the different standard for those in leadership (15:22-26).

Numbers 15:22 But when you unwittingly fail and do not observe all these commandments, which the LORD has spoken to Moses, 23 [even] all that the LORD has commanded you through Moses, from the day when the LORD gave commandment and onward throughout your generations, 24 then it shall be, if it is done unintentionally, without the knowledge of the congregation, that all the congregation shall offer one bull for a burnt offering, as a soothing aroma to the LORD, with its grain offering and its drink offering, according to the ordinance, and one male goat for a sin offering. 25 Then the priest shall make atonement for all the congregation of the sons of Israel, and they will be forgiven; for it was an error, and they have brought their offering, an offering by fire to the LORD, and their sin offering before the LORD, for their error. 26 So all the congregation of the sons of Israel will be forgiven, with the alien who sojourns among them, for [it happened] to all the people through error.

The “YOU” of verse 22 is modified by the phrase “without the knowledge of the congregation” – and is therefore thought to be LEADERSHIP sins. It is a sin of omission, so it was does not mean “intentionally hidden” – but rather a sin of neglect by a leader. When you read carefully Numbers 15:25-26, the Hebrew suggests that a leader had omitted a prescribed ordinance of God – causing the whole of the congregation to be deficient in observance. God offered a remedy in sacrifice –but the special section is echoed in later Scripture:

James 3:1 reminds: “Let not many [of you] become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment.”

The people of God need responsible and careful LEADERS. This is no luxury. We need men who KNOW the Word, who HANDLE IT WELL and who WALK IN WHAT THEY ARE TEACHING. The days are eroding this reality. I watched a professor on a You Tube just yesterday mention that a friend of his who happened to be a rabbi was complaining about how Pastors have messed up MINISTRY WORK. The rabbi said something like: “We in ministry used to be men of the Word, serious students who learned and taught. You guys have come in and become amateur counselors, polished showmen and verbal cheerleaders – and you have changed ministry. Now we can barely convince people that knowing the text of Scripture is all that important!” I agree with the rabbi. We have to get back to a serious understanding of the Word.

In the Congregation: We must all be sensitive to walking uprightly.

Numbers 15:27 Also if one person sins unintentionally, then he shall offer a one year old female goat for a sin offering. 28 The priest shall make atonement before the LORD for the person who goes astray when he sins unintentionally, making atonement for him that he may be forgiven. 29 You shall have one law for him who does [anything] unintentionally, for him who is native among the sons of Israel and for the alien who sojourns among them.

It is true that leaders can lead us astray – but each of us also bears some responsibility to keep watch over our lives. Sometimes we overlook things because we were poorly trained, but other times because we were living carelessly. When that happened in Israel, they were to TAKE RESPONSIBILITY to call it to the attention of the priest. When it happens to the believer, we take the problem to our High Priest in Heaven. 1 John 1:9 reminds: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

Here is the point: SIN IS A CAUSE THAT ANTICIPATES A COMING EFFECT. Omission breeds commission. Laziness and lack of discipline breed sinful behaviors.

How long will some believers not heed the warning that there is more to walking with God than trying to AVOID SIN. The best way to stay out of doing wrong is focus on a disciplined lifestyle of doing RIGHT!

When omission of right thinking and right living has been allowed, rebellion will take root. In short order, we will plunge into murky deception and deluded thinking. Some have stopped daily reading of the Word, and you are on your way. The world is still speaking loudly into your ear every day – but you have slowed down God’s Word coming in. What will be the effect? Your mind will not be transformed, and eventually your heart will resist its yielding. Look at the process as it creeps forward…

Numbers 15:30 But the person who does [anything] defiantly, whether he is native or an alien, that one is blaspheming the LORD; and that person shall be cut off from among his people. 31 Because he has despised the word of the LORD and has broken His commandment, that person shall be completely cut off; his guilt [will be] on him.'”

Rebels defy God’s authority and challenge His right to lead. They make alternative rules to His HOLY WORD, and despise the truth – which is what HE has said. They are dangerous to the people of God – and need to be separated out from them – or the effect will spread. We are easily prone to rebellion since the Garden – and we don’t seem to sense the seriousness and heinous nature of sin in God’s eyes.

To illustrate the idea, Moses included a “Case Study” –an event that took place that highlighted the issue of defiance and what God wanted done.

Numbers 15:32 Now while the sons of Israel were in the wilderness, they found a man gathering wood on the Sabbath day. 33 Those who found him gathering wood brought him to Moses and Aaron and to all the congregation; 34 and they put him in custody because it had not been declared what should be done to him. 35 Then the LORD said to Moses, “The man shall surely be put to death; all the congregation shall stone him with stones outside the camp.” 36 So all the congregation brought him outside the camp and stoned him to death with stones, just as the LORD had commanded Moses.

Before you get lost in the severity of the punishment, I want you to be careful to observe several truths from the short story:

First, the man had very few rules to follow in the desert. The problem was one of priority of God’s Word.

Second, the man had six days to get sufficient wood. Even if something incredible happened to make his wood pile unusable, he could have asked a neighbor to supply it until after Sabbath. The problem was one of respect of God’s person.

Third, He could have planned for the wood usage. His sin started long before the violation that he got caught in. The problem was one of discipline of his time and effort.

It is TRUE that God took the violation VERY SERIOUSLY. He always does. At the same time, if one starts in sober and serious reverence – the issue tends to come up less often later. When the people saw the severity of the punishment, they understood more of the severity of the crime. When crime is left unpunished, eventually people will question whether it is a crime at all.

Consider the honesty and integrity of people after Ananias and Sapphira were carried out fo the church in body bags. I suspect the problem of lying was dramatically dissipated, at least for a time. In all likelihood, the week after the stick gatherer was buried, nobody was doing work on Sabbath.

One Kind of Help – A Remembrance Ornament

God drove the point of obedience home with a command to mark their daily costume with something that would help them recall the seriousness of sin in their lives. The text closes:

Numbers 15:37 The LORD also spoke to Moses, saying, 38 “Speak to the sons of Israel, and tell them that they shall make for themselves tassels on the corners of their garments throughout their generations, and that they shall put on the tassel of each corner a cord of blue. 39 “It shall be a tassel for you to look at and remember all the commandments of the LORD, so as to do them and not follow after your own heart and your own eyes, after which you played the harlot, 40 so that you may remember to do all My commandments and be holy to your God. 41 “I am the LORD your God who brought you out from the land of Egypt to be your God; I am the LORD your God.”

Don’t skip past the words of this remembrance marker – there is a great lesson here! There is a POINT to a CHASTITY RING on a young person’s finger – just as there is for a ring on a married man or woman’s hand. Markers help us to recall our commitment.

• If you put a bumper sticker on your car about Jesus – please drive like a Christian. Don’t break the law, and don’t cut people off. Jesus shouldn’t have to get beat again for your poor adherence to the rules.

• If you wear a wedding ring, please act like you are, in fact, married. Your ring should ache when you aren’t thinking in a way that befits your station in life.

• If you wear a “Jesus loves you” t-shirt, is it too much to ask if I implore you to behave in public like you share His love for the lost? If you are rude, crude or lude – Jesus’ name gets dragged down.

Should you wear the ring, the t-shirt or affix the sticker. By all means YES, especially if it will force you to remember to LIVE BETTER.

We must be absolutely clear as believers that SIN HAS A CONSEQUENCE, and it should help us to back off the edge. We cannot live as we choose and then blame God for the outcome…

Philip Yancey, in his book “Reaching for the Invisible God” describes it this way:

“When Princess Diana died in an automobile accident, a minister was interviewed and was asked the question “How can God allow such a terrible tragedy?” And I loved his response. He said, “Could it have had something to do with a drunk driver going ninety miles an hour in a narrow tunnel? Just How, exactly, was God involved…”

• “Years ago, boxer, Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini, killed a Korean opponent with a hard right hand to the head. At the press conference after the Korean’s death, Mancini said, “Sometimes I wonder why God does the things he does.”

• In a letter to Dr. Dobson, a young woman asked this anguished question, “Four years ago, I was dating a man and became pregnant. I was devastated. I asked God, “Why have you allowed this to happen to me?”

• Susan Smith, the South Carolina mother a couple years ago who pushed her two sons into a lake to drown and then blamed a fictional car-jacker for the deed, wrote in her confession: “I dropped to the lowest point when I allowed my children to go down that ramp into the water without me. I took off running and screaming, ‘Oh God! Oh God, no! What have I done? Why did you let this happen?”

Now the question remains, exactly what role did God play in a boxer beating his opponent to death, a teenage couple giving into temptation in the back seat of a car, or a mother drowning her children? Is God responsible for these acts? To the contrary, they are examples of incredible human free will being exercised on a fallen planet. And yet it’s in our nature as mortal, frail, fallen people to lash out at one who is not responsible for these things, that being God.

When we rebel, we need to recall three principles: God isn’t done with us (encouragement principle), our failures can make us more sensitive to other people (empathy principle), and that sin has terrible consequences (effect principle).

Strength for the Journey: “Are You Calling Me a Liar?” – Numbers 14, part two

lies1Some of you may have seen the American television series “Lie to Me”, that ran on the Fox network between 2009 and 2011. The show follows the research and drama of Dr. Cal Lightman (played by Tim Roth) and his colleagues from “The Lightman Group” as they assist in investigations by applying special facial science markers. They believe most everyone gives certain “tells” when they are offering a lie – that our face and expression often “gives us away”. Interpreting what are called “micro expressions” they scrutinize body language observations during both formal and casual interrogation. The character of Dr. Lightman was based on a real psychologist by the name of Dr. Paul Ekman, who is accepted as an expert on such body language and facial expression discernment. Ekman worked from a lab at the University of California, San Francisco, where he received forty years of research grants from the National Institute of Mental Health to study nonverbal behavior – beginning in 1963. He accepted a professorship at the University of California, San Francisco in 1972. His famous book, “Telling Lies”, was published by 1985. Some of you may have seen the fruits of his study in a documentary series that he collaborated on with John Cleese for the BBC called “The Human Face”.

Dr. Ekman’s theory was simple; “Only a very tiny percentage of people can hide a lie”. Even when we try, our face and body doesn’t naturally allow us to hide it well. He may be right. At the same time, many people don’t really RECOGNIZE THE TRUTH. They aren’t intentionally telling a lie, they just aren’t telling what is factually true. A lie isn’t just an inaccuracy – it is a deception. Unfortunately, many people are living in a deception, so they cannot discern truth about their situation, which looks to them to be completely normal. Have you ever noticed how your eyes adjust to the low light in a room? After a time, your mind accepts the darker setting as normal. In some ways, a setting filled with deception is like that. We can live a life of darkness and a false picture or deception, but wrong will quickly begin to look normal, and even RIGHT in our eyes.

This can happen even to believers. We can WORRY, but call it CONCERN and thereby make a personal exception to this destructive and disobedient behavior. We can get ANGRY and call it “righteous indignation” allowing our heart to raise and our face to flush while flexing of the muscles of the flesh without question about our inflated EGO. We can excuse SUBSTANCE ABUSES as a natural response to PRESSURE. We can overlook SEXUAL MISDEEDS as simple MISTAKES, in spite of the fact that many choices were made along the way to set the stage for the deeds themselves. We have lots of ways to deceive ourselves and those around us – and for many of us that lifestyle has sadly become a normal part of our daily life. For some of us, we enter a church today, suppressing guilt and avoiding the prick of truth. We tell ourselves that tomorrow will be different.

Key Principle: The truth of our life is not how we evaluate it – but how our Creator sees it. We can accept wrong as right, and believe our own lies. He knows the truth, and meets us in GRACE to bring it to our attention.

In our lesson today, we focus on a slice of a story from the desert. We followed in the last study the same passage, Numbers 14, but we skipped many verses in the heart of the passage on our last pass – specifically the dialogue between Moses and God. We need to return to that “close up” picture of God’s interaction, because it exposes key truths about the way we view God and ourselves – and how HE responds to our darkened heart.

Let’s start with a clear view of the sin that set up the exchange between God and Moses:

In our previous study of this passage, I tried to make the point that “God only dances with us when He leads.” The whole point of a walk with God is NOT to pull Him into our lives, but to open ourselves to that He can pull us from our lives into HIS WAY. The very act of a walk toward God is gently transformed into a walk IN God and WITH GOD. The problem of our stubbornness is clear – we like to lead God. God’s desire for us is to experience what it feels like to be in His arms, and allow Him to lead us across the dance floor of life with confidence. He doesn’t want our life as a believer to be full of stumbling and humbling awkwardness – that occurs mostly because of our resistance to His leading.

In the intensity and stark reality of the desert, God’s people quickly lost the veneer of celebration of God’s leading from Egypt – showing themselves as more addicted to the predictable, if scant, comforts of the past slavery over the challenges and possible disappointments of the future trust in God.

• Numbers 1-10 reported the preparations for the journey away from the Mountain of the Law.

• In Numbers 11, they no sooner called “Wagon’s Ho!” and a rising tide of complaints between the people of God, and their leaders unfolded. The people complained of God’s provided menu in Numbers 11 and God’s designated leader in Numbers 12.

• When the spies returned in Numbers 13, the people wept over the report of the challenge ahead. Very quickly, sadness yielded to anger, and anger to bitterness. Bitter voices moved people toward action – and rather than change WITHIN, they sought to change the circumstances.

We saw their disobedience and its severe and devastating end in the earlier lesson. An army of men was butchered, and as they fell, they knew they did so in defection, guilt and disobedience. As their life’s blood flowed from them, they didn’t even have the satisfaction that they fell for a good cause. They lay on the ground with the full understanding that God warned them, and they walked the other way.

I want to stop and back up the tape… I want to move closely to the sounds of the dialogue between Moses and God BEFORE the devastation, but after the bitter voices. There was a moment before the drop fell into the pool. I want to freeze that moment, and see what we can learn from it. Our text opens with some questions – and God is the One asking them.

God asked two closely related questions to Moses (14:11):

Numbers 14:11 The LORD said to Moses, “How long will this people spurn Me? And how long will they not believe in Me, despite all the signs which I have performed in their midst?

First, how long will the people continue to “spurn” Him? The idea of the Hebrew word “naw-ats’” is to despise, blaspheme or reject God. Look closely at that word, because it reveals something about how God FELT about the lack of belief of His people. He felt PERSONALLY REJECTED by their unbelief in His ability to provide and care for them. It was a form of such defamation that He considered it BLASPHEMY.

Have you ever been guilty of BLASPHEMING GOD? All it takes, from His perspective, is WORRYING, FRETTING, CRYING because you don’t think God will come through on His word. Remember, God sent the spies into the land. God promised the people a home – and their unbelief in His ability was deeply offensive to Him.

Look specifically at the activities that God included in the SPURNING:

• Crying and weeping about a bad report from the spies (14:1).
• Harboring bitterness and anger toward God’s appointed leaders as they followed God (14:1b) that led to open rebellion against them (14:4).
• Concluding they would have been better off in the hands of the world (14:2).
• Open verbal doubts about God’s goodness and His keeping of His word (14:3).

Second, akin to God’s question about spurning, He asked: “How long will they not believe in Me, despite all the signs which I have performed in their midst?” The question is basically the same, but adds another dimension to God’s complaint – the emphasis on history. God was offended at their disbelief, but He was even MORE offended that they DISCOUNTED all the works He had done on their behalf prior to the current test.

Have you written off God’s gifts in your past, discounting His incredible works and tossing aside His favor in your past as you peer into your uncertain future? Has God not been at work for you in your life? Has He not provided you with many wonderful people and scores of things to make your life better? Are you not BLESSED? The Lord was specifically offended at the way the people became forgetful and unthankful for the blessings He had liberally provided.

Next God told Moses of a possible solution (14:12):

Numbers 14:12 “I will smite them with pestilence and dispossess them, and I will make you into a nation greater and mightier than they.”

God was clear – “You, Mo, you are okay. You are someone I can build upon. The people – I would suggest – are probably not going to be able to “go the distance” and stick with you or Me!”

Even to the casual observer it appears that when the people lost hope in God, God lost hope in them. Is that the lesson? Is it true that we can only count of God when He can count on us? I trust that is NOT the case- or we are all in great trouble! A careful look through the Bible will lead you to conclude that God DID NOT truly intend to follow through. How can I say that?

Psalm 103 reminds us of God’s character (shared in many portions of the Word… 1 “Bless the LORD, O my soul, And all that is within me, [bless] His holy name. 2 Bless the LORD, O my soul, And forget none of His benefits… 5 Who satisfies your years with good things, [So that] your youth is renewed like the eagle. … 7 He made known His ways to Moses, His acts to the sons of Israel. 8 The LORD is compassionate and gracious, Slow to anger and abounding in loving kindness… 10 He has not dealt with us according to our sins, Nor rewarded us according to our iniquities. 11 For as high as the heavens are above the earth, So great is His loving kindness toward those who fear Him. 12 As far as the east is from the west, So far has He removed our transgressions from us. 13 Just as a father has compassion on [his] children, So the LORD has compassion on those who fear Him. 14 For He Himself knows our frame; He is mindful that we are [but] dust.

If that is NOT true, why did God SAY to Moses that was something He was inclined to do? Because God was not only preparing to WORK ON THE PEOPLE, but preparing to WORK IN AND THROUGH THEIR LEADER.

Before God could effectively work in a generation, He needed to stir up the hearts of the leaders of the people. He needed them to LEARN to have compassion – by FIGHTING FOR THE PEOPLE – and interceding on their behalf. He enlisted the argument with Moses by offering a stern position. He pulled compassion from Moses and challenged him to show a defense of the people.

Moses responded to God in prayer (14:13-19)

There are two very striking portions in the center of the passage. The first is the prayer of Moses, where we can clearly see how God was working in his heart. His words offer us a window to the softness that must come when we deal with people and their sinful deception:

Moses interceded for the people. God was at work, molding the leader. To see that work in progress, let’s look at the prayer of Moses. His argument was clear:

First, Moses was concerned about God’s testimony. He said:

Numbers 14:13 But Moses said to the LORD, “Then the Egyptians will hear of it, for by Your strength You brought up this people from their midst, 14 and they will tell [it] to the inhabitants of this land. They have heard that You, O LORD, are in the midst of this people, for You, O LORD, are seen eye to eye, while Your cloud stands over them; and You go before them in a pillar of cloud by day and in a pillar of fire by night. 15 “Now if You slay this people as one man, then the nations who have heard of Your fame will say, 16 Because the LORD could not bring this people into the land which He promised them by oath, therefore He slaughtered them in the wilderness.

Moses wasn’t simply arguing that killing the people was in bad taste or would hurt his feelings – he made the point that God’s rescue was for a GREATER PURPOSE.

A real believer is always concerned with God telling His story to the world. Our good isn’t enough – it must be HIS GOOD.

Second, Moses was concerned about His people’s destiny. He said:

17 “But now, I pray, let the power of the Lord be great, just as You have declared…”

He had no argument that God should show Himself in power and according to His Word. He merely argued that God’s exposure of Himself was not only in JUSTICE, but equally in MERCY. Look at the THEOLOGY OF MOSES and see a wondrous picture of the Father in Heaven:

18 The LORD is slow to anger and abundant in loving kindness, forgiving iniquity and transgression; but He will by no means clear [the guilty], visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth [generations].’ 19 “Pardon, I pray, the iniquity of this people according to the greatness of Your loving kindness, just as You also have forgiven this people, from Egypt even until now.”

• Slow to anger: He is (“arek afim”: slow to flare the nose). God is tempered in reaction. He isn’t defensive, and doesn’t “flare up” easily.

• Abundant in loving kindness: (rav chesed: full of love that will not let go). God’s default isn’t fickleness, but faithfulness. He is a LOYAL God. He doesn’t let go easily.

• Forgiving iniquity: (naseh avown: bearing the guilty).

• Forgiving transgression: (naseh pasha: bearing the rebellious breaches).

• By no means clear the guilty: (v’nakeh lo yanakeh: doesn’t acquit the guilty without penalty).

• Vising the iniquity of the fathers on the children: (pawkad avone avoth al-benim: appointing the guilt of the fathers to the children). Don’t forget, the passage includes the truth that BOTH BLESSING AND PENALTY are forwarded to the next generation. This principle is as linked as CAUSE AND EFFECT in our world. God blesses the children of those who follow Him in a variety of ways. He also spurns those in the generations who follow a rebel.

God said He desired to wipe out the people in the desert and start over with Moses. God offered him a chance at EGO over INTERCESSION. It was a test. God nudged Moses from wounds over unfair criticism by his followers and family to choose to intercede FOR them, not complain ABOUT them.

Moses learned to increasingly and instinctively step in the path of the bullet for the people he led. A good leader was becoming a GREAT LEADER – because He interceded with a bigger view than “what was good for him” in mind. He argued for God’s testimony before the world – but raised no hint of wound over the personal unfairness of his critics. He sought God for OTHERS – even those who were overtly CRITICAL OF HIM PERSONALLY. As he prayed, Moses decreased, and God increased. In true humility, this desert shepherd became dramatically more effective.

Moses fell before God sowing in tears, and there he heard the promise of God that his people would one day reap in joy. Moses Wrestled verbally with God for the lives, of his people – and there he heard God’s plan for their future peace.

God replied to the prayer of Moses

The prayer of Moses set up the second important part of the text – HOW GOD RESPONDED. That reply revealed how God viewed the people, and what HE WOULD DO about their obstinacy and continued rebellion. The pattern is worth a closer look!

The Lord both judged and pardoned (14:20-38):

How did God respond to His people in their sin? The short answer is this: it depended on how they responded to HIM. God is ready to bring GRACE to the repentant, but He will not dismiss the work of the arrogant.

Because they did not repent, He said He would not pour a full blessing on the people. He would pardon them because of Moses’ intercession (and not destroy them), but He would not give them what was prepared for them. Benefits are curtailed when self-rebellion is accepted.

God’s Robbed Blessing: 14:20 “So the LORD said, “I have pardoned [them] according to your word; 21 but indeed, as I live, all the earth will be filled with the glory of the LORD. 22 “Surely all the men who have seen My glory and My signs which I performed in Egypt and in the wilderness, yet have put Me to the test these ten times and have not listened to My voice, 23 shall by no means see the land which I swore to their fathers, nor shall any of those who spurned Me see it.

God’s grace would keep the people alive (20). Moses’ plea was effective. The people would not die that day. Death would come in normal course.

God’s testimony would be seen by those who observe His works (21). Egypt would not see the deaths over time as God’s inadequacy – and the testimony of the Lord would increase in the eyes of the lost world.

God’s justice in the face of rebellion would withhold from mutineers and rebels the place promised to the fathers (22,23). This didn’t delight God – it CHEATED Him from giving more. He WANTED them to let Him lead them to the celebrations of their long awaited homeland. His promise was His delight – but they robbed Him of giving them that blessing.

It wasn’t the ACTIONS of the people, but their heart that God was looking at. We have all seen the tears. They were NOT the tears of those who were broken over sin – but they were saddened by the consequences of loss that followed the discovery of their guilt!

God’s Continued Reward: 14:24 “But My servant Caleb, because he has had a different spirit and has followed Me fully, I will bring into the land which he entered, and his descendants shall take possession of it. 25 “Now the Amalekites and the Canaanites live in the valleys; turn tomorrow and set out to the wilderness by the way of the Red Sea.”

God observed the heart of Caleb and saw his softness (24). That is what delighted Him! He wanted then (as He wants now) those who will trust Him enough to see the fearful challenges of the future through His promises- not their weaknesses.

God would grant the sons of Caleb an impossible victory – He would give them choices lands that were held by strong foes (25). He is not equal to our struggles – God is the Master of all of them. There is no power to match His command; no foe equal to His might. He only requires that His people trust Him, and He will move for them and with them.

Note before we leave this important exchange that it wasn’t the MOMENTARY defection from God that brought harsh judgment, but the long term and incessant dispute with God’s right to lead. That is ALWAYS the case. Rebellious actions come from a resistant heart!

God Hears: 14:26 The LORD spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying, 27 “How long [shall I bear] with this evil congregation who are grumbling against Me? I have heard the complaints of the sons of Israel, which they are making against Me.

We must be mindful that God hears our angry, bitter and grumbling heart when we pull away from Him and insist that His way is not GOOD, because it is not EASY.

God recognizes our growth: 14:28 “Say to them, ‘As I live,’ says the LORD, ‘just as you have spoken in My hearing, so I will surely do to you; 29 your corpses will fall in this wilderness, even all your numbered men, according to your complete number from twenty years old and upward, who have grumbled against Me.

God expects us to be more mature with age. He is more tolerant of the very young, but that tolerance must not become license. With each rejection, our hardness becomes MORE SET – callousness kills tenderness toward God (28,29). For those who are young, God is willing to walk the path with you – and pull on your heart. You may feel that tug strongly, as He calls you to a path that follows Him. With each passing year, that tug may feel less profound- because you grow stronger in SELF. Be warned, and respond early.

God offers GRACE: 14:30 Surely you shall not come into the land in which I swore to settle you, except Caleb the son of Jephunneh and Joshua the son of Nun. 31 Your children, however, whom you said would become a prey– I will bring them in, and they will know the land which you have rejected.

God keeps His promises, but He will do so without the extraordinary blessing that was both promised and prepared for the rebel (30,31). God found a way to bless the family by blessing a future generation. This allowed Him to keep His word, but not enable their sin and overlook their rebellion.

God dealt with rebels: Those who had not softened, He would show the end of rebellion. He said: 14:32 But as for you, your corpses will fall in this wilderness. 33 Your sons shall be shepherds for forty years in the wilderness, and they will suffer [for] your unfaithfulness, until your corpses lie in the wilderness. 34 According to the number of days which you spied out the land, forty days, for every day you shall bear your guilt a year, [even] forty years, and you will know My opposition. 35 I, the LORD, have spoken, surely this I will do to all this evil congregation who are gathered together against Me. In this wilderness they shall be destroyed, and there they will die.'”

Where is the GRACE OF GOD in this?

Keep reading. He knew people that turned their heart to Him, and His response was altogether different. Numbers 14:36 As for the men whom Moses sent to spy out the land and who returned and made all the congregation grumble against him by bringing out a bad report concerning the land, 37 even those men who brought out the very bad report of the land died by a plague before the LORD. 38 But Joshua the son of Nun and Caleb the son of Jephunneh remained alive out of those men who went to spy out the land.

Look closely. God’s treatment of leaders was not the same as His treatment of followers. He has less tolerance for those who lead others astray (36,37). He also has great reward for those who lead as He desires! He provided extraordinary blessing to those who stood for Him against the defectors (38).

Here is the point:

The truth of our life is not how we evaluate it – but how our Creator sees it. We can accept wrong as right, and believe our own lies. He knows the truth, and meets us in GRACE to bring it to our attention.

Blessing comes from obedience. When obedience is breached, blessing comes from repentance and softening toward God. Hardness begets hardness – and robs people of the blessing God is not only willing, but anxious to pour into their lives.

In a speech made in 1863, Abraham Lincoln said, “We have been the receipients of the choicest bounties of heaven; we have been preserved these many years in peace and prospertiy; we have grown in numbers, wealth, and power as no other nation has ever grown. But we have forgotten God. We have forgotten the gracious hand which preserved us in peace and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us, and we have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own. Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God that made us.” Can we not instinctively see the danger?

Billy Graham once preached: “The strongest principle of life and blessings lies in our choice. Our life is the sum result of all the choices we make, both consciously and unconsciously. If we can control the process of choosing, we can take control of all aspects of our life. We can find the freedom that comes from being in charge of our life. So start with what is right rather than what is acceptable. “If you don’t make a decision, then time will make it for you, and time will always side against you.”

Strength for the Journey: "The Awkward Dance" – Numbers 14

awkward-danceIt isn’t that I wouldn’t like to know how, it is just a fact. I cannot dance. I really can’t. I tried to learn, but I just don’t seem to have what it takes. Perhaps it is a rhythm issue, or maybe just a mental block. In any case, I can’t seem to get the hang of it. Every time I am on board a cruise ship, I wish I knew how. My wife can dance, but she hasn’t had any practice since we started dating nearly three decades ago. What I DO know about dancing is that there is a leader, and there is a follower. As long as each knows their role and functions in their role, the dance will look coordinated. In some ways, our walk with God in life is like that…

God’s desire for us is to experience what it feels like to be in His arms, and allow Him to lead us across the dance floor of life with confidence. He doesn’t want your life to be full of stumbling and humbling awkwardness – that occurs mostly because of our resistance to His leading. Many of you know what I mean:

Suzie has always wanted to be a bride. She has been in five weddings for her former college roommates – always a bridesmaid and never a bride. Each time she is asked to be a part it is a bittersweet feeling of wanting to be a part, but wanting to play a different part in the guest list. She wants to be the one sending the invitations. She has dated, but nothing seems to come of it. She has dreams, and she gets worried that God may not have the same ones for her as SHE has for her.

Chuck went to a good school, and got a fine education. He works hard, and he feels like he is competent in his work. His boss seems to see others around him as more valuable every time promotion time comes due. He feels stuck, but he can’t seem to figure out what to do about it. He is coming in the church door today, hoping that God’s plan for him isn’t the dead end he feels it may be.

Most of us have been there. We are anxious because we have a longing or a desire and God doesn’t seem to be as energized about leading us toward it as we are to get it. Maybe we are misreading what He is doing, or maybe He has opened a different door and we have been dull of mind and slow of heart. What we can say for sure is that there is a principle God’s Word teaches that we must recall if we are going to navigate the wilderness of life well…

Key Principle: God only truly dances with us when HE leads. God is FOR your plans when you are FOLLOWING Him, not leading Him.

Let me show you a passage that makes the point ever so clearly. It is found tucked into the middle of the Book of Numbers, recording the perils of the journey half way to the Promised Land for God’s people.

Numbers 14:1 Then all the congregation lifted up their voices and cried, and the people wept that night. 2 All the sons of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron; and the whole congregation said to them, “Would that we had died in the land of Egypt! Or would that we had died in this wilderness! 3 “Why is the LORD bringing us into this land, to fall by the sword? Our wives and our little ones will become plunder; would it not be better for us to return to Egypt?” 4 So they said to one another, “Let us appoint a leader and return to Egypt.” 5 Then Moses and Aaron fell on their faces in the presence of all the assembly of the congregation of the sons of Israel. 6 Joshua the son of Nun and Caleb the son of Jephunneh, of those who had spied out the land, tore their clothes; 7 and they spoke to all the congregation of the sons of Israel, saying, “The land which we passed through to spy out is an exceedingly good land. 8 “If the LORD is pleased with us, then He will bring us into this land and give it to us– a land which flows with milk and honey. 9 “Only do not rebel against the LORD; and do not fear the people of the land, for they will be our prey. Their protection has been removed from them, and the LORD is with us; do not fear them.” 10 But all the congregation said to stone them with stones. Then the glory of the LORD appeared in the tent of meeting to all the sons of Israel. 11 The LORD said to Moses, “How long will this people spurn Me? And how long will they not believe in Me, despite all the signs which I have performed in their midst? 12 “I will smite them with pestilence and dispossess them, and I will make you into a nation greater and mightier than they.” 13 But Moses said to the LORD, “Then the Egyptians will hear of it, for by Your strength You brought up this people from their midst, 14 and they will tell [it] to the inhabitants of this land. They have heard that You, O LORD, are in the midst of this people, for You, O LORD, are seen eye to eye, while Your cloud stands over them; and You go before them in a pillar of cloud by day and in a pillar of fire by night. 15 “Now if You slay this people as one man, then the nations who have heard of Your fame will say, 16 Because the LORD could not bring this people into the land which He promised them by oath, therefore He slaughtered them in the wilderness.’ 17 “But now, I pray, let the power of the Lord be great, just as You have declared, 18 The LORD is slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, forgiving iniquity and transgression; but He will by no means clear [the guilty], visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth [generations].’ 19 “Pardon, I pray, the iniquity of this people according to the greatness of Your lovingkindness, just as You also have forgiven this people, from Egypt even until now.” 20 So the LORD said, “I have pardoned [them] according to your word; 21 but indeed, as I live, all the earth will be filled with the glory of the LORD. 22 “Surely all the men who have seen My glory and My signs which I performed in Egypt and in the wilderness, yet have put Me to the test these ten times and have not listened to My voice, 23 shall by no means see the land which I swore to their fathers, nor shall any of those who spurned Me see it. 24 “But My servant Caleb, because he has had a different spirit and has followed Me fully, I will bring into the land which he entered, and his descendants shall take possession of it. 25 “Now the Amalekites and the Canaanites live in the valleys; turn tomorrow and set out to the wilderness by the way of the Red Sea.” 26 The LORD spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying, 27 “How long [shall I bear] with this evil congregation who are grumbling against Me? I have heard the complaints of the sons of Israel, which they are making against Me. 28 “Say to them, ‘As I live,’ says the LORD, ‘just as you have spoken in My hearing, so I will surely do to you; 29 your corpses will fall in this wilderness, even all your numbered men, according to your complete number from twenty years old and upward, who have grumbled against Me. 30 Surely you shall not come into the land in which I swore to settle you, except Caleb the son of Jephunneh and Joshua the son of Nun. 31 Your children, however, whom you said would become a prey– I will bring them in, and they will know the land which you have rejected. 32 But as for you, your corpses will fall in this wilderness. 33 Your sons shall be shepherds for forty years in the wilderness, and they will suffer [for] your unfaithfulness, until your corpses lie in the wilderness. 34 According to the number of days which you spied out the land, forty days, for every day you shall bear your guilt a year, [even] forty years, and you will know My opposition. 35 I, the LORD, have spoken, surely this I will do to all this evil congregation who are gathered together against Me. In this wilderness they shall be destroyed, and there they will die.'” 36 As for the men whom Moses sent to spy out the land and who returned and made all the congregation grumble against him by bringing out a bad report concerning the land, 37 even those men who brought out the very bad report of the land died by a plague before the LORD. 38 But Joshua the son of Nun and Caleb the son of Jephunneh remained alive out of those men who went to spy out the land. 39 When Moses spoke these words to all the sons of Israel, the people mourned greatly. 40 In the morning, however, they rose up early and went up to the ridge of the hill country, saying, “Here we are; we have indeed sinned, but we will go up to the place which the LORD has promised.” 41 But Moses said, “Why then are you transgressing the commandment of the LORD, when it will not succeed? 42 “Do not go up, or you will be struck down before your enemies, for the LORD is not among you. 43 “For the Amalekites and the Canaanites will be there in front of you, and you will fall by the sword, inasmuch as you have turned back from following the LORD. And the LORD will not be with you.” 44 But they went up heedlessly to the ridge of the hill country; neither the ark of the covenant of the LORD nor Moses left the camp. 45 Then the Amalekites and the Canaanites who lived in that hill country came down, and struck them and beat them down as far as Hormah.

First, let’s recall the SETTING of the story, since the whole issue is set in a specific context:

Numbers 14:1 reminds that the crying voices of Israel were lifted up “THEN”…Then all the congregation lifted up their voices and cried, and the people wept that night.

• Remember that Numbers 1-10 reported the preparations for the journey away from the Mountain of the Law.

• Numbers 11 began the “Wagon’s Ho!” segment. Within a few weeks, reported within a few verses was the rising tide of mutual complaints between Moses and God, and the people and God.

• The people complained of God’s provided menu in Numbers 11, and even Moses family criticized his leadership in Numbers 12.

• By Numbers 13, the people were stunned by the apparent reversal of fortune when they heard the words of the challenge of taking the land by all but two of the spies sent into the land.

As we open our look at Numbers 14, we find the people weeping, and the leaders breaking under the weight of constant complaint and criticism.

Second, look at the next few verses, for they define two groups – each took a leg of the fork in the road that many of us are familiar with.

First, there were those who chose the road to the village called “MY PLAN”:

Numbers 14:2-4 describes those who took the left leg of the fork – the road that leads to the village of MY PLAN. Let me see if it makes sense to you:

14:2 All the sons of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron; and the whole congregation said to them, “Would that we had died in the land of Egypt! Or would that we had died in this wilderness! 3 “Why is the LORD bringing us into this land, to fall by the sword? Our wives and our little ones will become plunder; would it not be better for us to return to Egypt?” 4 So they said to one another, “Let us appoint a leader and return to Egypt.”

MY PLAN is the village where what I want, how I feel, and what I believe I need are more important than anything God’s Word says, or God’s messengers shout. It is a village where I make up my mind about my future, and ask God to bless what I want. It is, in short, a village where I lead the dance, but speak of God as if He is my God. Look at those who have taken the road to get there, they may seem eerily familiar:

• They are prone to complaint, and will wail through the night when they don’t think God is ready to give them whatever they feel they need (14:1).

• They will conclude that God’s plan for them has not been good, because it has not been EASY. They don’t subscribe to God’s view of freedom – a release to serve Him with all our hearts – for that is NOT the freedom they truly want. They would prefer to die enslaved to the world than take the steps against their nature and submit willingly to God’s direction (14:2).

• They assume that God has no GOOD plan for them, but has drawn them into relationship to PLAY with their lives – and not to love them (14:3). They BELIEVE God has a plan for them – they just don’t trust that He is truly good!

• They conclude that a new leader would solve their issues – instead of a new heart. Submission is for the passive – they are ready to ACT! (14:4). Seizing control of their destiny seems to be a great option – forget that God got them out of Egypt by Moses and Aaron’s hand… oh and there was the plague thing that got them freed from Egypt… and the parting of the sea thing that tossed mighty chariots and taskmasters into the brink….and then there was that pillar of fire and cloud GPS system that got them safely to the wilderness….and there was that fast food pickup service provided day by day from God for thousands upon thousands…

Here’s the point: No amount of God’s blessing, God’s provision, God’s patience in the past is good enough for them. They need to grab control of their lives before God wrecks them with His crazy notion of submission to Him.

Surrender is NOT a ready option when God doesn’t appear trustworthy. After all, what if He wants me to be a missionary and give up my progressive job? What if He wants me to set aside my dream of marriage and family to serve Him alone for decades? What if He asks me to do the HARD THING, and be honest in an office of thieves? Only one who believes that God is both GOOD and QUALIFIED will surrender their future to Him. The foundation of our resistance to surrender to God is essentially a poor theology. We woke up one day and thought that although He saved us, He lacks what it takes to really run our lives in a way that pleases us. What is even more offensive is to study His Word and recognize that pleasing us is not His highest priority- when clearly in our minds it SHOULD BE His greatest priority.

That is the group that forged the trail to MY PLAN – the village of leading God to a land where He lets me be in control, but still saves me from bondage. You may have met them before. They wore the same togas, sat in the same Sabbath school and sang in the same choir as you did… but they don’t have the same life plan. They want SALVATION without SURRENDER, a self-designed life for a semi-servant of God.

Next, on the other leg of the fork, were those on the road to the village called “SERVANT”.

Numbers 14:5-9 focused on the small group that took the other path… 5 Then Moses and Aaron fell on their faces in the presence of all the assembly of the congregation of the sons of Israel. 6 Joshua the son of Nun and Caleb the son of Jephunneh, of those who had spied out the land, tore their clothes; 7 and they spoke to all the congregation of the sons of Israel, saying, “The land which we passed through to spy out is an exceedingly good land. 8 “If the LORD is pleased with us, then He will bring us into this land and give it to us– a land which flows with milk and honey. 9 “Only do not rebel against the LORD; and do not fear the people of the land, for they will be our prey. Their protection has been removed from them, and the LORD is with us; do not fear them.”

The path to SERVANT is aptly described in about the same number of verses as the other path – but the two lanes end in very different places.

• The road to SERVANT is taken by those who HUMBLE themselves. Everyone in SERVANT knows how to bow, and does it willingly. Moses and Aaron bowed before the people, falling on their faces. They didn’t push harder for “more respect” nor complain because they didn’t get the “perks” of leadership (14:5).

• Joshua and Caleb tore their clothing, because a journey on the road to SERVANT is one that recognizes the heinousness of rebellion and resistance against God’s direction (14:6).

• The honorable spies cried out to get the people to see the problems as smaller than God’s power, and part of His providence (14:7-8). The road to SERVANT is made by those who understand that God has all circumstances in HIS HANDS. Limitless power is not a theory to them – it is a fact of God’s person.

• If you peer into the words of Joshua and Caleb you will hear a gentle recognition that God is not obliged to do anything. Verse 8 clearly opens with a caveat: “IF” the Lord… He can do as He pleases, because the road to SERVANT is a road that recognizes that God is God and we are NOT.

• The spies didn’t speak without confidence, they spoke without presumption. Their conclusion is that GOD WOULD be with them, and their enemies would be reduced to ashes. They saw fear as the seed that sprung up in rebellion; and rebellion the tree that produced the fruit of destruction (14:9).

The path to SERVANT is a yielded path, a journey toward a GOOD GOD, and a walk of confidence in God’s character. Submission is easier when confidence is greater. It was not because of the FUTURE that these four men took a different path than those around them – it was because of their view of God. They saw Him as GOOD. They recognized Him as QUALIFIED to run all things. They, in a word, TRUSTED Him.

Finally, (with the setting and two groups clearly in view) we should observe how those on each path walked along the journey, and where their respective journeys ended.

The people on the path to the village called MY PLAN forged ahead to their fate:

They met God on the path, but He was NOT willing to be led by them. In fact, Numbers 14 reminds: 10 “But all the congregation said to stone them with stones. Then the glory of the LORD appeared in the tent of meeting to all the sons of Israel.

When God appeared, those on the road to MY PLAN were probably not nearly as enthusiastic about His GLORY. They were about to have their life interrupted by the God that WILL NOT BE LED by men. He was also NOT going to let them choose to harm His servants.

Here is the truth: For a while people are willing to follow those on the road to SERVANT – but eventually the distance between the two paths will show itself. Those on the road to SERVANT will seem less prepared to DEFEND THEMSELVES – because they aren’t trusting in horses and chariots. They know that God will show up when the time comes.

This is the reason so many people walk on believers today – because we don’t seem ready to fight. They attack us, and we pray for them. They hurt us, and we seek God for their souls. There are those believers who fight back. Activist Christians are often believers who find more solace in protest than prayer, more power in raising defenses then bowing their knees. They misunderstand the nature of the battle. Christianity has NEVER won by legislation and maneuvering – it is a battle fought for the souls of men on worn knees in quiet rooms. I do not ask you to withdraw from the vote, nor to withdraw from making our voices heard. I simply argue that if our voices aren’t first heard by God, they will sound hollow before men.

God spoke to Moses, and he reported God’s Word to them. He did the job of one on the road to SERVANT. The problem was, some of the people weren’t on the same path, and they saw their destiny as something in their OWN HANDS. Listen to how the story ended for them:

Numbers 14:39 When Moses spoke these words to all the sons of Israel, the people mourned greatly. 40 In the morning, however, they rose up early and went up to the ridge of the hill country, saying, “Here we are; we have indeed sinned, but we will go up to the place which the LORD has promised.” 41 But Moses said, “Why then are you transgressing the commandment of the LORD, when it will not succeed? 42 “Do not go up, or you will be struck down before your enemies, for the LORD is not among you. 43 “For the Amalekites and the Canaanites will be there in front of you, and you will fall by the sword, inasmuch as you have turned back from following the LORD. And the LORD will not be with you.” 44 But they went up heedlessly to the ridge of the hill country; neither the ark of the covenant of the LORD nor Moses left the camp. 45 Then the Amalekites and the Canaanites who lived in that hill country came down, and struck them and beat them down as far as Hormah.

Look at the reaction closely, and see if any of the faces are familiar to you:

First there was a public time of mourning. The emotions poured as people recognized they were stubborn and rebellious (14:39). If you have been in church circles, you have seen these tears many times – people caught by God in the midst of their sin.

Next, the morning sun arose. The rebels would not leave rebellion, because the path to MY PLAN isn’t so easy to reverse (14:40). Moses tried to reason with them. He asked them WHY they felt it necessary to go on a path that went the WRONG WAY. He implored them to STOP and TURN BACK – for the direction they were headed on was leading to DESTRUCTION. He couldn’t have been clearer. “It won’t work!” (14:41). Do NOT go up! (14:42). “The armies of the enemy will destroy you.” (14:43).

As Moses continued his stern words, he offered the central truth that should ring in the ears of all who would walk on the path to MY PLAN…”… the LORD will not be with you.”

There it is! There is the powerful message that we need to meditate upon. God WON’T WALK ON THE PATH WITH THOSE WHO WANT TO WALK TO MY PLAN.

Why? Because of this truth: God only truly dances with us when HE leads. God is FOR your plans when you are FOLLOWING Him, not leading Him.

Can we not grasp this truth? How long will we move along in our Christian life asking God to bless our plans and not submitting to the path He has laid out for us? Will we stay in a sexually compromised relationship because we fear loneliness? Will we live together in a home without marriage because we fear losing dual pension benefits? What are we saying? The voice of our lives is being heard in our streets. Christians believe in the “theory of following God”, they believe in purity when it will not leave them lonely, they believe in a God who sees and provides when it comes to other people’s choices regarding integrity.

It is time for believers to see the two paths and choose the one that leads to SERVANT. The path to MY PLAN is a disaster. I will warn you with the voice of Moses.

God has heard enough of our sobbing, it is time for our changing. It is time for our choice to let Him lead the dance. He knows what He wants to do with your life. Don’t bargain or haggle with an omnipotent God. Trust Him. He is worthy of your trust. Change the path you are on – and do it today. At least, take a minute and listen to another fellow traveler and consider their words…

At first I saw God as my observer, my judge, keeping track of the things I did wrong, so as to know whether I merited heaven or hell when I die. He was out there sort of like a president. I recognized his picture when I saw it, but I really didn’t know Him. But later on, when I met Christ, It seemed as though life were rather like a bike ride, but it was a tandem bike, and I noticed that Christ was in the back helping me pedal. I don’t know when it was that he suggested that we change places, but life has not been the same since. When I had control, I knew the way. It was rather boring, but predictable. . . It was the shortest distance between two points.

But when he took the lead, He knew delightful long cuts, up mountains, and through rocky places at breakneck speeds, It was all I could do to hang on! Even though it looked like madness, He said, “Pedal!” I worried and was anxious and asked, “Where are you taking me?” He laughed and didn’t answer, and I started to learn to trust. I forgot my boring life and entered into the adventure. And when I’d say “I’m scared,” He’d lean back and touch my hand. He took me to people with gifts that I needed, gifts of healing, acceptance and joy. They gave me gifts to take on my journey, my Lord’s and mine. And we were off again. He said, “Give the gifts away; they’re extra baggage, too much weight.” So I did, to the people we met, and I found that in giving I received, and still our burden was light. I did not trust Him, at first, In control of my life. I thought He’d wreck it; but he knows bike secrets, knows how to make it bend to take sharp corners, knows how to jump to clear high rocks, knows how to fly to shorten scary passages. And I am learning to shut up and pedal in the strangest places, and I’m beginning to enjoy the view and the cool breeze on my face with my delightful constant companion Jesus Christ. And when I’m sure I just can’t do anymore, He just smiles and says . . . “Pedal.” – (Taken from sermon central illustrations, author posted as “unknown”).

Strength for the Journey: “Fear Factor” – Numbers 13

fear1Without a healthy fear, we would be a very unhealthy people. In some situations, fear is the healthiest emotional response we can have. If we weren’t afraid of alligators, we would become complacent hiking through the swampy areas of Florida. If we weren’t afraid of sheer cliffs, we would see people toppling off the side of the Grand Canyon daily, because they foolishly hung over the rocks. If we weren’t afraid of catastrophic failure, we would routinely take unreasonable engineering risks. Fear isn’t intrinsically a bad thing – it can be the very deterrence you need to keep you from doing something incredibly dumb, or permanently crippling. One more thing about fear – it can be an instrument in the toolbox of God to teach us some very important truths about life. God can use our fears to graphically illustrate to us our constant need of Him.

When the late President Roosevelt said on December 8, 1947: “We have nothing more to fear than fear itself.” He meant to instruct the American people they need not fear the Japanese ability to overtake them – but needed to fear a reaction that was not wise or healthy. The American people needed resolve – not cowardice. They needed determination, not bickering in the halls of power. In every case we have seen, the response to fear is what defines it as a valuable emotion to instruct us.

• If we begin in fear and end trusting God – we learn anew of His faithfulness.
• If we begin in fear and end victimized, blaming and scorning God’s plan – we have gained nothing of value. Rather, we have let the size of the problem block our view of God’s faithfulness, God’s majesty and God’s power.

The key is in our response…

Key Principle: Being afraid isn’t the problem – that is just acknowledging that you can’t do something without God. The issue is what you do next.

Fear isn’t wrong in itself, but poses a test that can only be passed with proper response. We ALL have fears, and God acknowledged at our Creation that we were not equipped to handle life alone. Man was made with the need for others, incomplete in himself. It was for that reason, even before the entrance of sin – God said: “It is NOT GOOD for man to be alone.” Fear is an acknowledgement that many things in life are beyond my control. Somehow, just having another person to share the fear with is helpful – even if they have no more ability to control the circumstances than we do. Fear points out to us that we cannot do things alone – life is just too hard to take it on without help.

Young people know something about fear. They are facing a turbulent world that is changing fast. The field they study for today will likely dramatically change three or four times in their career. They will begin young and ahead of the curve, but they know they won’t stay that way. Some of us remember the birth of color television while they have never lived without a microwave oven. What changes will be ahead for them? They don’t know – and the smart ones have a healthy mistrust for the future.

Young parents know fear. God invested into your life this precious and helpless little life. You wake from sleep when they cry, and you hear their tiny breaths against their bassinette pillow and count them. You know when they have the slightest sniffle, or when their bottom is not dry. You feel their pain before they understand it. What parent cannot understand? We saw the pain in the eyes of parents of Newtown, Connecticut. We know we are raising their children in a world that can be perilous to its weakest members. The faces of missing children sit on the breakfast table affixed to the milk carton – a reminder that there are evil people in the world that are willing to harm its tender citizens. They learn to let them go to school that first year, but it is not without reticence and pain.

Seniors know fear. For those among us with fewer calendar days ahead than behind, they know about fear. As the body slowly ages and loses strength, the fears increase. We watch friends fade in failing health, and we know the same will probably be our lot – save God’s intervention. We see more and more the failing of our faculties even as we watch a dramatic rise of victimization – and the response is that we are more and more afraid.

Being afraid isn’t our big problem…responding incorrectly is.

Let me show you a story that was recorded to instruct us in this truth in Numbers 13 and 14.

The Instruction (13:1-20)

13:1 Then the LORD spoke to Moses saying, 2 “Send out for yourself men so that they may spy out the land of Canaan, which I am going to give to the sons of Israel; you shall send a man from each of their fathers’ tribes, every one a leader among them.” 3 So Moses sent them from the wilderness of Paran at the command of the LORD, all of them men who were heads of the sons of Israel. 4 These then were their names: from the tribe of Reuben, Shammua the son of Zaccur; 5 from the tribe of Simeon, Shaphat the son of Hori; 6 from the tribe of Judah, Caleb the son of Jephunneh; 7 from the tribe of Issachar, Igal the son of Joseph; 8 from the tribe of Ephraim, Hoshea the son of Nun; 9 from the tribe of Benjamin, Palti the son of Raphu; 10 from the tribe of Zebulun, Gaddiel the son of Sodi; 11 from the tribe of Joseph, from the tribe of Manasseh, Gaddi the son of Susi; 12 from the tribe of Dan, Ammiel the son of Gemalli; 13 from the tribe of Asher, Sethur the son of Michael; 14 from the tribe of Naphtali, Nahbi the son of Vophsi; 15 from the tribe of Gad, Geuel the son of Machi. 16 These are the names of the men whom Moses sent to spy out the land; but Moses called Hoshea the son of Nun, Joshua. 17When Moses sent them to spy out the land of Canaan, he said to them, “Go up there into the Negev; then go up into the hill country. 18 “See what the land is like, and whether the people who live in it are strong or weak, whether they are few or many. 19 “How is the land in which they live, is it good or bad? And how are the cities in which they live, are they like open camps or with fortifications? 20 “How is the land, is it fat or lean? Are there trees in it or not? Make an effort then to get some of the fruit of the land.” Now the time was the time of the first ripe grapes.

Three truths are offered in the opening verses of the story to set up the scene for the FEAR FACTOR lesson:

The story began with an instruction of God. The Lord told Moses to send the spies to Canaan (13:1). This is so important to the narrative that it is repeated in 13:3 “at the command of the Lord”. It wasn’t an inner yearning to get out of the desert by the leader – it was the prompting of God that set up the story.

We have seen numerous times a simple truth: “Where God guides, God provides.” The men were not instructed to walk into the situation unwatched and unguarded. God was calling them. At the same time, we would be remiss if we didn’t point out that obedience is often a call to real courage. As our world continually frames Jesus as the enemy of tolerance, this is becoming a more and more important observation – our faith in the coming days will urgently call us to the “courage of obedience”:

To stand up for Jesus Christ in the co-ed dorm, without being a judgmental and obnoxious person will take courage.

• To stand with conviction at the local scout troop meeting and frame “character” as that which continues the values of the Judeo-Christian heritage the scout troop was founded upon will take courage.

• To push back in a school system that offers a month of witches and demons at Halloween, but forces a Christmas celebration into a “Winter holiday” will take courage.

• To go to the office and learn to serve the other people there without descending into a course joke or extravagant drinking binge at the office party will take courage.

• To resist the overtures of a co-worker who is unhappily married while you are desperately hoping to meet someone to spend your life with will take courage.

Jesus didn’t call us to the easy. He called us to have courage – to believe that He will guide us and He will supply us what we need to follow Him. He will offer the companionship, the clarity and the concern to keep us going when we are different than those around us. Obedience takes courage.

They were to send one man from each tribe (13:2-16). One of the ways God provides for us to muster courage is through offering us companionship. The list of the people is carefully included in the ancient text:

• From Reuben was sent Shammua son of Zaccur (13:4).
• From Simeon was sent Shaphat son of Hori (13:5).
• From Judah was sent Caleb son of Jephunneh (13:6).
• From Isaachar was sent Yigal son of Joseph (13:7).
• From Ephraim was sent Hoshea (Joshua) son of Nun (13:8).
• From Benjamin was sent Palti son of Raphu (13:9).
• From Zebulun was sent Gaddiel son of Sodi (13:10).
• From Manasseh was sent Gaddi son of Susi (13:11).
• From Dan was sent Ammiel son of Gemalli (13:12).
• From Asher was sent Sethur son of Michael (13:13).
• From Naphtali was sent Nahbi son of Vophsi (13:14).
• From Gad was sent Geuel son of Machi (13:15).

The list is not in the order of the rank in the camp – the birth order of the sons (Genesis 29 and 35). It was not in the order of their encampment around the Tabernacle (Numbers 2). The order likely reflects the ORDER THE MEN SHOWED UP to check in for the purpose of following God’s instruction. God knew that it was essential that the witness of the events be given by those who were trusted across the ranks of society. He ordered specifically that the men were to be called from among the recognized leaders of the tribe.

The men were directed by Moses where to go and what to do – first to the Negev (north of them) and then across the depression into the mountains (13:18-20). Their seven-part assignment was to do the following:

1. See what the land is like – generally map out the area (13:18a).
2. See the condition of the people – individually are they well fed and strong or weak and sickly (13:18b).
3. Examine the terrain for movement and development – scope out roads, connections between people, etc (13:19a).
4. Identify if the people are living in tent camps or along fortified (walled) cities (13:19b).
5. Look specifically at the soil for agricultural capability and discern if there is sufficient top soil for farming staple crops (13:20a).
6. Define the area for forest cover and grove production (13:20b).
7. If possible, get some fruit from the field (it was the season of new grapes) (13:20b).

Here is the heart of the matter: God did not keep them from a realistic view of what they were facing – He directed them right into the core of the challenge. Like a dentist that doesn’t withhold the size of the needle that we will be experiencing, God let the men see the challenge ahead. Because God knows our hearts, He had something in mind. Have you ever wondered: “What was the benefit of letting them see the walled cities and mightily prepared men before they were to engage them?” Some may feel God cruel for firing the warning shot into their hearts – but the daunting size of the challenge is part of the lesson of the FEAR FACTOR. God was removing the UNKNOWN from them, and replacing it with the IDENTIFIED and RECOGNIZED size of the true challenge.

Many times our fears are conjured up – and often they are sized beyond any reasonable proportion. We see through the eyes of fear EVERYTHING as too hard, too powerful for us. We dream up fears and add to our anxiety based on problems that are solely creations of our own mind. God wants us to face the TRUTH about the size of a task, and our need of Him in all of it – but not to conjure up bigger mountains to climb then the real ones. Life is challenging enough – He doesn’t call us to fret the unseen. He sees. Yet, in His mercy, sometimes we get a glimpse of the weight of the coming commission – and we should look carefully.

It is in the nature of people to minimize the challenge involved in something they DESIRE, and to maximize the challenge is something they DREAD. If you dangle before a man something he longs for, he will devise a plan to attain it – no matter the risk. If you place before him a task that he does NOT DESIRE to do – he will find an excuse to avoid it. The people had already been complaining about the terrain, the menu and the God that was leading them. God opened their eyes to the land before them to GROW THEIR HUNGER for the land ahead – and allow Egypt to fade behind them. When He did, they reacted with the Egyptian hunger still very much intact.

The Journey (13:21-24)

13:21 So they went up and spied out the land from the wilderness of Zin as far as Rehob, at Lebo-hamath. 22 When they had gone up into the Negev, they came to Hebron where Ahiman, Sheshai and Talmai, the descendants of Anak were. (Now Hebron was built seven years before Zoan in Egypt.) 23 Then they came to the valley of Eshcol and from there cut down a branch with a single cluster of grapes; and they carried it on a pole between two men, with some of the pomegranates and the figs. 24 That place was called the valley of Eshcol, because of the cluster which the sons of Israel cut down from there.

The men did as instructed (13:21-24). The narrative followed the report of their specific journey:

• They came up through the wilderness of Zin to the open area of the Negev (Rehob may be a city, or may simply be the enlarged area) into Levo-Hamath (“to come in to the hot place” – again either an encampment, or more likely a description of the area – a broad and hot bowl) as recorded in Numbers 13:21.

The wilderness of Zin is an area surrounding and including the deep ravine of Wadi Zin – a wild goat refuge (ibex) with waterfalls and springs. It is a steep, cave-filled, brown rocky plateau above and green valley below. The descent it tricky, and the fragmentation of the rock makes it even more dangerous. As they began, they had the advantage of cliff lookouts, and caves. Mesopotamian Pistachio trees grow in the bottom today – perhaps memorials of older trees from that time. Coming from the Wilderness of Paran, a largely barren wasteland, these trees provided excellent cover for spies. At the same time, their absolute best cloak was the Summer heat – for no one ventures far in that place during the heat of the year..

• Passing through the Negev depression, they ascended to the mountains of the Hebron plateau and descended along the slope of the Eschol (“cluster”) wadi to the west, gathering a large vine of new grapes, along with some pomegranates and figs. The first figs come out in Spring (around May or June) but many are not harvested until later in the summer – because their large leaves protect the fruit from spoiling quickly. Summer grapes begin to ripen in July and August. That means the spies were sent during the hottest part of the year – Summer in the desert, as recorded in Numbers 13:22-24.

Eventually it was time to “step out” of the shadows of the cliffs into the open area of the Negev basin. Even in the summer, men could be spotted miles away from the encampments at Arad, Beersheva or Gerar. The men must have traveled in the dark of night, risking the dangers of travel without sight – and being forced to trust God as they moved around inhabited tent camps that looked more like their own. There were fortifications, but they were seeing but a few of them, surrounded by massive tent caravan camps – as traders moved about in this southern east-west depression of the country where the rail line travels today.

Bypassing the camps, they began to climb along the defined roadways into the mountains. The steady incline was somewhat arduous, but they must have been thrilled with approaching the land of Father Abraham, and using (perhaps for the first time) roadways that were familiar to him. In the walk, the men learned that one way to build faith and defeat fear is to REMEMBER. God hadn’t left their fathers – and He wouldn’t leave THEM. The stories of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph were the stories of God encountering men in fear, but leaving them in FAITH.

Let me offer this advice: When God is calling you to do something that requires conviction and courage, look back. Look in your own life, and in the testimonies of those around you. Look back to the lives of those who followed God in days long ago, their tales enshrined in the Scriptures of long ago. Draw courage from God’s record of faithfulness. Learn about right and proper expectation so that the days ahead will not surprise you. God hasn’t just done things in the past – He RECORDED THEM – because He intended you to learn of Him and be strengthened.

The Spies Returned (13:25-29)

13:25 When they returned from spying out the land, at the end of forty days, 26 they proceeded to come to Moses and Aaron and to all the congregation of the sons of Israel in the wilderness of Paran, at Kadesh; and they brought back word to them and to all the congregation and showed them the fruit of the land. 27 Thus they told him, and said, “We went in to the land where you sent us; and it certainly does flow with milk and honey, and this is its fruit. 28 “Nevertheless, the people who live in the land are strong, and the cities are fortified and very large; and moreover, we saw the descendants of Anak there. 29 “Amalek is living in the land of the Negev and the Hittites and the Jebusites and the Amorites are living in the hill country, and the Canaanites are living by the sea and by the side of the Jordan.”

The spies were gone for forty days – but finally returned and came to Moses and Aaron who remained encamped in the wilderness of Paran, in the area of Kadesh (probably the designation of the placement of the Tabernacle and center camp – thus designated “holy” or “sacred”. They offered the following report:

The Initial Good Report:

• We went into the land as instructed, and the land is abundant (zub is “gushing”) with agriculture and pasturing flocks (13:27).
• Here is a sample of the fruit we secured for you (13:27b).

The Initial Bad Report:

• The people are fierce (‘az can be used for “fierce” or “rugged”).
• The cities are fortified and impregnable (“batzar” is fortified and also impossible).
• The children of the Anakim live in the hill country.
• The desert marauding Amalekites live in the Negev basin.
• The highly developed city culture of the Hittites and several other Canaanite tribes are scattered through the mountain region.

Several things are clear about their report. They traveled across the breadth of the southern mountains of what would one day be called Judah. The saw the low hills of the Shephelah on the west – where the grapes grew in the Sorek and Eschol valleys, the high limestone plateau of Hebron and the roadway up to Jebus (future Jerusalem), and the eastern wilderness that drops dramatically off to the Jordan River and Dead Sea. They saw the people, and assessed well the landscape and population. Archaeology of the Canaanite (Bronze Age) culture in the land bears out the description we see in Numbers 13. This was a prosperous city culture with caravan traders that brought riches from afar.

Let me ask again: “Why would God send the men to see the power of the enemy they were going to have to face?”

It wasn’t simply to SCARE THEM. It was as much to PREPARE THEM. It was to SHAKE THEM from their visions of Egypt and give them a taste of a future THEY COULD HAVE if they followed Him!

Recently I counseled a young man that was very much in love with a young lady that did not want the relationship to continue. He was heartbroken. He cried out to God: “Why did you let me have such a wonderful relationship if you were only going to take her away?” I thought about his question, and I am convinced it was to help him see his future. There IS a woman for him – he just hasn’t found her yet. He was beginning to believe it wouldn’t happen, and the experience in the last year with her has revived the dream and given him a hunger to seek God’s best for him. It also did something else… it helped strengthen his heart and teach him about giving it away too quickly. Part of the foreshadowing is about VISION, and part about PREPARATION – but all of it is about learning to trust God.

The Recommendations (13:30-33)

13:30 Then Caleb quieted the people before Moses and said, “We should by all means go up and take possession of it, for we will surely overcome it.” 31 But the men who had gone up with him said, “We are not able to go up against the people, for they are too strong for us.” 32 So they gave out to the sons of Israel a bad report of the land which they had spied out, saying, “The land through which we have gone, in spying it out, is a land that devours its inhabitants; and all the people whom we saw in it are men of great size. 33 “There also we saw the Nephilim (the sons of Anak are part of the Nephilim); and we became like grasshoppers in our own sight, and so we were in their sight.”

Contrasting calls confused the people. Caleb’s call to move forward was swiftly shouted down by counting off the number of obstacles before the crowd. At the heart of their argument was the statement “We are not able”. They were completely correct. If they were to attempt to take possession of their inheritance in their own strength – they would be humiliated (which we will see graphically illustrated in the next chapter). The truth is LIFE IS NOT DESIGNED FOR YOU TO BE ABLE TO HANDLE IT ALONE. Jesus said, “Apart from Me you can do NOTHING.” The simple fact is that life doesn’t work when lived on our own strength and our own resources. The sooner we understand that, the less painful life will be.

If the view was a test, there is little question that the sons of Jacob and their tribes failed miserably. They heard the challenge, and it set them back on their heels. Why? Did they think the land was going to be vacated before them by God? There are many believers in our day that have been poorly taught that such should be their expectation. They believe if “God is in it” things will go smoothly, and troubles will melt on the road – like a mirage on a hot roadway in summer. It is a false view of the world, and a flawed view of God that weakens them and makes perilous their real preparedness for the days ahead.

Perhaps, like most believers today, the issue wasn’t that they didn’t expect a fight, but that they expected the fight to be something THEY could do. They believed that God should lead them into a life that THEY could provide with their hands, their ingenuity, their might. They saw themselves as part pioneer and part servant… but that isn’t the right view. They didn’t understand the God of the Bible. He doesn’t WANT you to be fully able to live life in YOUR STRENGTH. He wants you to KNOW you need Him. He wants you to learn to LEAN on Him for both the daily and the critical issues of your life. He wants to walk through life WITH YOU.

A self-reliant person sees the problems and possibilities – and matches them to his or her strengths and weaknesses. God’s man or woman faces the challenges with the “X” factor of God’s call and God’s enabling. How do I get that perspective?

• First, look at Caleb’s short testimony. He hushed the people – because reacting to the problem solves NOTHING.

• Second, he called on the people to move toward what God promised them.

He saw all that the others saw – but he remembered the promises of God. He didn’t say they should simply CONQUER it – he said they should TAKE POSSESSION of it (“yarash” is to dispossess the others of it). He argued as one who was confident that God would give them their inheritance – because God promised it to them.

When we say:

• It’s impossible. God says- All things are possible with Me.
• I can’t do it. God says- You can do all things through Christ.
• I’m too tired. God says- Come to Me, I will give you rest.
• I’m worried and frustrated. God says- Cast all your cares on Me.
• I can’t go on. God says- My grace is sufficient for you.
• I can’t figure things out. God says- I will direct your steps.
• I’m not able. God says- I am able.
• It’s not worth it. God says- It will be worth it.
• I can’t manage. God says- I will supply all your needs.
• I’m afraid. God says- I have not given you a spirit of fear.
• I don’t have enough faith. God says- I’ve given everyone a measure of faith.
• I’m not smart enough. God says- I give you wisdom.
• I feel all alone. God says- I will never leave you or forsake you.

A mature believer clothes himself with the promises of God. He isn’t presumptive, but he learns them, and he celebrates them. He anticipates God’s goodness and faithfulness to fulfill God’s ends. He looks for ways for God to work in and through him to stabilize and complete a work in others. He seeks God’s call, and follows God’s lead…. And he doesn’t let fear deter him from following God’s Word and holding God’s hand.

Being afraid isn’t the problem – that is just acknowledging that you can’t do something without God. The issue is what you do next.

When you don’t face fear and respond in faith – you walk in hesitance. You are never quite sure…A man flew into Chicago & hired a taxi to take him downtown. As he was riding along they came to a red light & the driver went right on through the red light. The man said, “Hey, the light was red. You’re supposed to stop.” The driver said, “Yeah, I know, but my brother does it all the time.” Soon they came to a second red light & again he went right straight through. The passenger said, “You’re going to get us killed. That light was red. Why didn’t you stop?” The driver said, “Don’t worry about it. My brother does it all the time.” Then they came to a green light & he stopped. The man said, “The light is green. Now is the time to go. Why don’t you go on through?” The driver answered, “I know it’s green. But you never know when my brother may be coming through.” Fear has to be dealt with properly – or it will paralyze our ability to accomplish God’s call! (from sermon central illustrations).

Strength for the Journey: “With Friends Like These” – Numbers 12

screenplayBefore it was a movie in 1998, the screen play written by Frank Messina called “With Friends Like These” was already a pop hit among a group of actors in Hollywood. The movie was no great success as I recall, but in smaller venues, like the Munich film awards, it was seen as a lovable and warm look into the actor’s craft. The idea of the screenplay was to pose four actors vying for a part in a Hollywood movie about gangsters. It was a film about making a film, with actors playing actors. I did not see the movie, and cannot say if it delivered on its entertainment value. I am not endorsing its language or its content – I don’t know about how it came out. Why am I mentioning it, then? Because the idea of the screenplay intrigued me, so I read about it. The comedy was formed on the premise that each actor had to perform a stereotypical part of the underworld mob – to project they could comfortably live with the Corleone family and deal with “horse heads in their beds”. If the references mean nothing to you, don’t worry about it – it means you have kept yourself from living in the world of the “Godfather”, and are, in no way, related to Al Pachino or Marlin Brando. Here’s the idea I that caught my attention: If I am surrounded by people that I cannot trust to care for me, life would take on an isolating coldness that I don’t know if I could endure.

You see, I admit that I have lived, in at least emotional ways, a sheltered life. I have parents that love me – or at least they have made me believe they did! I have spent hours with them, laughing, and enjoying them as adult friends. In my youth, they encouraged me to try things, to teach and to explore. From my home, I ventured into the Near East and became the wandering traveler that is still in my blood thirty years later. I came under the tutelage of some of the best teachers the world had to offer in the fields of my chosen studies. Along the way I married a young woman that has been so very faithful and kind to me – as I dragged her around the world. A small town girl, she took on the streets of foreign cities and has become the more aggressive driver of the two of us – and in many ways the more engaged traveler. In short, I have come home for fifty plus years of life, to a home of people who love me, and are encouraging to me. The hard reality of Pastoral ministry is that I have come to know that is NOT NORMAL for many people these days. Some of you come home to something very different than my experiences. Some of you cannot relate to my upbringing. As a result, when people come for counsel, I find myself thinking about the people in their lives: “With friends like you have, who needs enemies?

If your life isn’t much like mine, you may find that our story today is closer to YOU than to me. Our story is about Moses, and the knives that were stuck in his back by his own brother and sister. There is nothing like the pain of betrayal in the midst of a battle – and make no mistake – leading Israel through the wilderness WAS a battle for Moses. In fact, in the last lessons we have been studying complaints that swept the camp of Israel from its edge to its very core. They appear to have started with the superstitious and pagan among the rabble on the edge of the camp stumbling across what may have been stellae – or markers of the edge of Egyptian territory. What should have been a moment of homage to pagan gods was bypassed by the Hebrews, and the complaints started –that led to God sending lightning to burn the edges of the camp and warn the rabble of non-Israelites to get back in line. Eventually, the complaining spread – because it always does. Complaining is like yawning, it is contagious. Moses got in on it as well, and wisely took his grievance toward God. It wasn’t long until the fire was lit on the tongues of Moses’ brother and sister – and this is today’s lesson.

Let me ask you a question: Have you ever had a dear friend or even a family member criticize you behind your back?

Perhaps they disagreed with an important decision you made in your life, and they just couldn’t seem to let it go! Moses had it happen to him – when he chose a WIFE that wasn’t on his sister’s list of candidates. They were apparently hurt by Moses’ independence in his decision – offended that he didn’t listen to them. Add to that, they appeared to be jealous that people didn’t understand how critical a role they played in the whole “get out of Egypt” scenario. Their words were harsh and God dealt with them to preserve His leader over the people, but also to make a point.

Key Principle: God takes our words seriously, and we cannot forget that! We need to be so very careful about how we use our mouths.

James warned of the damage a tongue can do – like a match to a parched forest. Jesus warned, in the midst of a message about the unpardonable sin of disbelief that: Matthew 12:36 ““But I tell you that every careless word that people speak, they shall give an accounting for it in the day of judgment.” The tongue inside our head may be the most dangerous weapon we possess in emotional terms.

Look back into the heart of the Israelite camp, some fifteen hundred years before Jesus came, and we will see the illustration of how the poisoned tongue can do its damage:

Numbers 12:1 Then Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses because of the Cushite woman whom he had married (for he had married a Cushite woman); 2 and they said, “Has the LORD indeed spoken only through Moses? Has He not spoken through us as well?” And the LORD heard it. 3 (Now the man Moses was very humble, more than any man who was on the face of the earth.)

The Setting (Numbers 12:1-3)

If you look carefully at the situation, you will see how the attack of the tongue hit Moses from behind…

Notice the TIMING: The stab in the back came while the camp was under attack (12:1). “Then…”

We must remember that the people of God have been under a SPIRITUAL ATTACK. The timing of the attack against the leader is NOT coincidence – it is a planned shot at a weakened time. That is how the enemy works. He knows when to pick out your weakness and weariness and use it against you.

Notice the AGENTS: The stab in the back came from those closest to Moses (12:1). “Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses.”

The enemy of our souls is not unwise about WHO he uses to stab at us. When he wants to get into our hearts, embitter our walk and insert the venom of complaint within us, he uses the people we care about. This is a favored tactic.

Notice the ISSUE: The stab hurt because it concerned the most personal of choices (12:1b). “…because of the Cushite woman whom he had married.”

We don’t if Moses chose to marry again, or if Zipporah had died – but Cushites were Africans not Israelites. Here is what we DO know. Moses wasn’t out dating women. He didn’t “bump into” a woman at Starbucks and begin a conversation in line. I recognize that the subject of our time together is NOT POLYGAMY, but let me just offer this… We cannot tell if Zipporah had died by this time – we simply don’t know. Let me pose my own understanding of the situation that may be a surprise to some of you — I don’t personally believe that Moses had multiple wives at all – I think the Midianite woman named Zipporah is the one referenced by Miriam and Aaron’s displeasure in this passage.

Let me be quick, but offer my case:

• Moses got married to a Midianite girl, a daughter of Jethro (also called Reuel), while he was on the run from his murder charge (for which he was guilty, we should add –cp. Exodus 3 and 4).

• Exodus 18 says that Moses had two sons – both by Zipporah – (18:3-4) … the name of the one was Gershom; for he said, I have been an alien in a strange land: 4 And the name of the other was Eliezer; for the Mighty One of my father, said he, was mine help, and delivered me from the sword of Pharaoh.”

• In Exodus 4, Moses’ wife derided him for not circumcising their child (Ex. 4:24ff), and Moses left the camp under God’s orders with ONLY Aaron his brother to go to Pharaoh. There is NO indication that Zipporah was WITH MOSES during the plagues that fell on Egypt. IF Zipporah was NOT IN EGYPT, Miriam didn’t get to know her until after they arrived back in the Midianite territory. They may not have met before.

• Clearly the story of Exodus 18, when Jethro visits Moses is intended to tell the story that her return to her husband was NOT UNTIL they were in the wilderness. It wasn’t until that time that Miriam met Zipporah – and two women with vastly different life experiences and perspectives – were both close to the leader of the people. That is a recipe for tension.

Let me anticipate a question. Why is the woman in Numbers 12 called a “Cushite” – the word that some would call “Ethiopian”? I think it is because of her physical features – not necessarily her nationality. This is a comment about genetic appearance – not national identity.

The issue is illustrated in the Caribbean – where some “brown skinned” Hispanics look more like Africans than Hispanics – because of the history of the slave trade that passed through the region. Some Cubans, for instance, look “black” and others more “brown”. It isn’t hard to see how someone could pick out a “black” person who actually would categorize themselves as a “brown” person – is it? In short, I think she looked like a black African more than an Israelite – and the Midianites as a traveling band had mixed with other tribes for allegiance purposes.

If the issue WAS Zipporah, why not simply NAME HER? I think the text is trying to bear out the bad feeling. “That Cushite” was probably the way they were expressing their displeasurenot using her name. While we are on this point – let’s take a moment to be clear about how prejudice works – it is formed by an abstraction of someone not named. It is easy to hate when you don’t know someone and they are different from you. It is when you learn their name and engage their life that the abstract becomes the real.

The bottom line is that it appears to me the problem isn’t polygamy, but personality and perhaps personal prejudices. Miriam and Aaron weren’t attendees at Moses wedding, and the woman they met on the journey was not one they would have picked – no matter the reason.

My point is the same: it was a personal choice of Moses, and they didn’t like his choice.

Notice the MOTIVATION: The stab was a complaint that covered a deeper problem – the feeling of being slighted. Verse 2 says: “…and they said, “Has the LORD indeed spoken only through Moses? Has He not spoken through us as well?”

Is it possible that Zipporah made some comment that reminded them of the importance of her husband? Maybe that is why the text links MOSES’ WIFE to the underlying complaint about recognition. What is clear is they weren’t just mocking wedding photos- they were hurt by something. When the complaining started in the camp – Moses got hit. So did his family. Even after he and God resolved the issue between them, Moses needed to attend to those around him. The enemy disrupted the camp, and he wasn’t leaving until the disruption left permanent scars on the people near to Moses. Dead Israelites from the “quail incident” were barely cold and the enemy was already working overtime to kill any relief on the part of the leader.

Did you notice the problem Miriam and Aaron seemed to express? They were JEALOUS of Moses’ recognition, and felt their vital contribution was passed over. The issue wasn’t the history of God’s prophetic voice – but the RECOGNITION of it. We who are in ministry must fight the battle of self-worth constantly. Though the world considers a Christian leader MORE IMPORTANT based on the SIZE of ministry – we need to be careful to keep our eyes fixed on the real measure, not the popular sentiment. It is possible that a leader can become more popular with people, and less faithful to God. In fact, it is a constant temptation to please people at the expense of being honest with hard texts of truth, found in God’s Word. Conversely, God may mark a leader’s ministry with numerical growth if it pleases Him to do so.

Every leader must be careful not to fall into the trap of reading “success” by attendance statistics or affirming comments. Our recognition and affirmation must come from above – not from those who surround us. We dare not “feed” off of the good will of others – for God sees our heart. He knows if He is happy with our work – and that is what truly counts. God is interested in a man or woman that will follow Him whether or not they get recognition this side of Heaven. Because that is true, Heaven’s choirs will laud some whose names were not well known on earth, and may skip some personalities who have become household names in each generation. We must commit to an audience of ONE – and please Him above all others.

Now, Notice the PROBLEM: The stab against Moses was heard by GOD! Verse two closes with a simple statement that becomes the foundation for every other action in the text: “…And the LORD heard it.

Here is the warning in our lesson. God is LISTENING.

Our mouths are being monitored. Our complaints are overheard. Our blasphemies are recorded. Our lies are being scrutinized. Our exaggerations are being dissected. Our boasts are being examined… and all this by the ONE who’s very name is TRUTH.

Right in the middle of the story there is an insertion by some other writer, because God wanted something clear. Moses didn’t write verse three – he couldn’t have – or verse three would not have been true! The “drop in” to the text is this: Numbers 12:3 “(Now the man Moses was very humble, more than any man who was on the face of the earth.)” Why put this into the writing? Because God wanted something very clear. It wasn’t MOSES that was seeking retribution against his siblings – it was God’s ear on the camp. Moses wasn’t a SNITCH. He may not have even been aware at the time. There is no indication in the text that Moses knew WHY the three of the “Amram clan” were being called to stand at attention to God’s Voice in the desert that day.

God’s Response (12:4-13)

God answered the sin of Miriam and Aaron with word and symbol. He wanted to make a point that would stick with both of them – and then He wanted us to read about it. He made an example out of one sister to speak to all the sisters and brothers that would come in the generations of His work.

First, there was the verbal encounter with God at the Tabernacle – God made His position clear. He said:

Numbers 12:4 Suddenly the LORD said to Moses and Aaron and to Miriam, “You three come out to the tent of meeting.” So the three of them came out. 5 Then the LORD came down in a pillar of cloud and stood at the doorway of the tent, and He called Aaron and Miriam. When they had both come forward, 6 He said, “Hear now My words: If there is a prophet among you, I, the LORD, shall make Myself known to him in a vision. I shall speak with him in a dream. 7 “Not so, with My servant Moses, He is faithful in all My household; 8 With him I speak mouth to mouth, Even openly, and not in dark sayings, And he beholds the form of the LORD. Why then were you not afraid To speak against My servant, against Moses?

The issue wasn’t accountability here – it was recognition. Leaders, like all believers, MUST be accountable to others – it is a part of God’s Word and it is a requirement.

• Proverbs 27:17 “As Iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.”

• Matthew 18:15-17 (ESV): “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.

• Galatians 6:1-2 (ESV): “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.

• James 5:16 (ESV): “Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.

The issue was RECOGNITION and PERCEIVED IMPORTANCE in the ministry, as well as the personality and personal prejudices of people. Maybe Miriam didn’t like the fabric and color choices Zipporah put in Moses’ tent. Maybe she didn’t like the way Zipporah played the tambourine at the Tabernacle sing-along. Maybe she didn’t like her looks, her perfume, or her favorite joke – Who knows? The truth is that all that was a SURFACE PROBLEM. The real issue was AFFIRMATION – and Miriam and Aaron wanted MORE. They wanted the recognition they were IMPORTANT TO THE TEAM. That hunger made them critical of God’s man – when he wasn’t doing anything wrong. He didn’t choose his wife to BOTHER THEM. He didn’t get alone with God and wrestle on behalf of the people because of THEM.

Here is a very important issue: Moses was wrestling with issues before God that even his brother and sister didn’t know or fully understand. He was dealing with God on a level they had never been at – and they had little criteria to criticize him. Let’s not forget that when dealing with others – we may not know the truth of what they are going through. Leaders are called to hold their cards close.

Take for instance a time when a leader is in a devastatingly difficult meeting that really hits their heart with a tough problem. Right after that meeting they go to yet another unrelated meeting – and he or she must shake off the problems of the first meeting at the second. One of the skills of leadership that must be learned is the skill of “segmenting”. This is the ability to set aside a problem and focus on other issues, because there is more than one problem that needs complete focus and attention.

Not to become the center of attention, but merely to illustrate this truth, let me share a personal story from not long ago. One morning I had three meetings. In the first, I found out about a friend’s infidelity to their spouse and was asked for some critical counsel by wounded people, who sobbed their way through the meeting. Since they asked that I keep it absolutely secret, I counseled and prayed with them – not mentioning it to anyone else. As they left, the next appointment showed up. I was offering a Biblical explanation, as best I was able, to a woman who was being abused and needed to know what the basis of separation from their spouse could be. She wasn’t looking for a “quick fix” and the details of the situation were complex. I walked through some Biblical passages with her, and I prayed for her situation. She left, and I stopped to talk to the Lord about something I had said to my wife the night before that was bothering me. I was irritated with someone and she stumbled into the subject on a walk the night before, and I wasn’t kind in my response. I felt I hurt her, and I wanted to talk with the Lord about it. As I did, my next appointment came in – a couple looking forward to getting married. At that moment, I wasn’t particularly UP emotionally. At the same time, that wasn’t the young happy couple’s problem. “You look tired, Pastor.” They said. I tried to be funny: “No, I just didn’t use eye makeup today!” They grinned and we got busy wedding planning. The issues of earlier meetings needed to be set aside so that I could focus on their issue. Other people’s sin was NOT their problem. It is terribly important that leaders learn when to shut their mouths off, and segment the last meeting from the next one.

Moses had just come from dealing with God on the issues of complaint. We cannot know how long between that event, and this one, other than the word “then” at the beginning of the passage. The point is that when we encounter someone, we have to remember that we may not see the real place they are at inside. We need to keep that in mind before we pounce on them.

• I am speaking to the husband who comes home critical about housekeeping to a wife that has dealt with a stubborn child all day and wants adult conversation. She wants to be recognized for her hard fought battle at lunch with the flying Gerber products. She wants to be told she is beautiful when she couldn’t get time to fix her hair without their child removing all the eggs from the fridge.

• I am passing this reminder to you BEFORE you go into the line at the “customer service” counter of the local store to complain. My aunt worked the Sears complaint counter while on chemotherapy for the cancer that claimed her life. People were rude, and sometimes crude about problems that by anyone’s count would pale in comparison to the ones she was facing.

You don’t know another person’s “inner demons” (poetically, I mean) or distresses, so dial back the tongue a bit. Speaking of “bits” – some of us need to get one to bridle our complaining voice.

Second, there was the powerful symbol given to Miriam – because she apparently was the more vocal participant in the criticism of Moses.

Numbers 12:9 So the anger of the LORD burned against them and He departed. 10 But when the cloud had withdrawn from over the tent, behold, Miriam was leprous, as white as snow. As Aaron turned toward Miriam, behold, she was leprous. 11 Then Aaron said to Moses, “Oh, my lord, I beg you, do not account this sin to us, in which we have acted foolishly and in which we have sinned. 12 “Oh, do not let her be like one dead, whose flesh is half eaten away when he comes from his mother’s womb!”

Miriam needed a seven day lesson – so God provided one. Aaron needed a graphic reminder that God had a unique call for his brother, and Aaron wasn’t supposed to feed or field complaints for him. As soon as God struck Miriam, Aaron didn’t go to God – but to Moses. Under the complaint was the recognition that Moses really WAS on a different plane in his walk with God. Aaron sought Moses’ help, so Moses dropped to his knees before God.

The Results of their Sin (Numbers 12:13-16)

There is a price to be paid for sin – and sinners brings the price on more than just themselves. YOUR choice isn’t just about YOU – it is about those around you as well. Miriam’s need for affirmation had consequences that weren’t JUST about her skin – though that was no picnic either!

First, it grieved God’s leader – Moses fell down broken before the Lord (12:13). The situation caused Moses to misunderstand God’s hand. People who aren’t self-focused aren’t so easily rocked by critical voices – and Moses was a humble man. He hurt for his sister, and his brother.

Numbers 12:13 Moses cried out to the LORD, saying, “O God, heal her, I pray!” 14 But the LORD said to Moses, “If her father had but spit in her face, would she not bear her shame for seven days? Let her be shut up for seven days outside the camp, and afterward she may be received again.”

You have to be a little bit impressed with the selfless nature of the man here, don’t you? Few of us take criticism so well – but Moses developed thick skin under the Sinai sun. He wasn’t given to reaction BEFORE MEN – he left that to his relationship with God. He didn’t float above the earth and he wasn’t always patient – but he more often reacted rashly BEFORE GOD than in the presence of the other Israelites. God wasn’t more distant because of Moses’ tough words with the Holy One – quite the opposite. The most severe punishments to Moses came as a result of his bad behavior in front of others – not his private arguments with God.

God would rather hear your honest complaints before Him than watch you offer them to others around you. He wants you to PRAY when you are hurt, not seek to ease your pain through drawing others into it. That may become necessary, but it is not the primary response God is looking for.

Grieving the godly is one of the prices of sin in the body. When we don’t walk with God, we make trouble for others – whether we thought about that or not.

Second, it stopped the move of God’s people – nobody moved for a week. They were frozen from progress in their journey because of one person’s mouth, and another person’s ear.

Numbers 12: 15 So Miriam was shut up outside the camp for seven days, and the people did not move on until Miriam was received again. 16 Afterward, however, the people moved out from Hazeroth and camped in the wilderness of Paran.

Our sin can stop the forward momentum of many. Complaints and gossip can stall out a work for God. People who need to be rescued from darkness may be eternally hurt because we distracted the work from outreach to explanation. We can so easily get distracted on “style of worship” or some minutia of theological difference that we become ineffective as a body to move forward.

God takes our words seriously, and we cannot forget that! We need to be so very careful about how we use our mouths.

Our words set a tone in the hearts of others. Let me close with this illustration: A young girl who was writing a paper for school came to her father and asked, “Dad, what is the difference between anger and annoyance?” The father replied, “It is mostly a matter of degree. Let me show you what I mean.” With that the father went to the telephone and dialed a number at random. To the man who answered the phone, he said, “Hello, is Melvin there?” The man answered, “There is no one living here named Melvin. Why don’t you learn to look up numbers before you dial?” “See,” said the father to his daughter. “That man was not a bit happy with our call. He was probably very busy with something and we annoyed him. Now watch….” The father dialed the number again. “Hello, is Melvin there?” asked the father. “Now look here!” came the heated reply. “You just called this number and I told you that there is no Melvin here! You’ve got lot of guts calling again!” The receiver slammed down hard. The father turned to his daughter and said, “You see, that was anger. Now I’ll show you what annoyance means.” He dialed the same number, and when a violent voice roared, “Hello!” The father calmly said, “Hello, this is Melvin. Have there been any calls for me?” (sermon central illustrations –submitted by Pastor Jimmy Haile).

Strength for the Journey: “A Season of Discontent” (Part Two) – Numbers 11

franklinBenjamin Franklin once wrote: “Any fool can criticize, condemn and complain – and most fools do.” It is possible that you have complained once or twice in your life… or this week… or before you arrived this morning? We seem to live in a world designed for our convenience, and filled with our complaints. What is happening to us? For many of us, the problem is simple – it is a MARGIN problem. Dr. Richard Swenson wrote a book in 2004 that sold hundreds of thousands of copies called simply: Margin. The byline on the front of the book read: “Restoring Emotional, Physical, Financial and Time Resources to Overloaded Lives.” I bought the book a few years ago, as I was studying stress and its effects on marriage and family. It opens this way:

The conditions of modern-day living devour margin. If you are homeless, we send you to a shelter. If you are penniless, we offer you food stamps. If you are breathless, we connect you to oxygen. But if you are margin-less, we give you one more thing to do…Margin-less is being thirty minutes late to the doctor’s office because you were twenty minutes late getting out of the bank, because you were ten minutes late dropping the kids off at school because the car ran out of gas two blocks from the gas station – and you forgot your wallet. Margin, on the other hand, is having breath left at the top of the staircase, money left at the end of the month, and sanity left at the end of adolescence.

Margin-less is the baby crying and the phone ringing at the same time; margin is Grandma taking the baby for the afternoon. Margin-less is being asked to carry a load five pounds heavier than you can lift; margin is a friend to carry half the burden. Margin-less is not have time to finish the book you are reading on stress; margin is having the time to read it twice.

Margin-less is fatigue; margin is energy. Margin-less is red ink; margin is black ink. Margin-less is hurry; margin is calm. Margin-less is anxiety; margin is security. Margin-less is culture; margin is counter-culture. Margin-less is the disease of the new millennium; margin is its cure.

Most of us understand exactly what Dr. Swenson was writing about. We live in a time when bleeding ulcers and irritable colons are becoming commonplace – and we cannot seem to slow life down and set up the systems necessary to deal with the constant onslaught of hassles. When we are stressed to the limit, we find ourselves complaining. Sometimes we even turn to Heaven with a bitter heart. Yet, not all complaints are a reflection of a bad heart, or a struggle with evil. Sometimes even the best of us become overworked, and overburdened – and the cloth of life wears thin.

I deliberately broke the teaching of Numbers 11 into two lessons, because the passage contains two distinct kinds of complaints. In our last lesson, we highlighted the complaints that came from a heart that didn’t trust God – a believer that failed to understand the goodness of God in their daily life. In this lesson, I want to highlight a believer that was beat down – overburdened and in serious need of a time of “honest praise”. Honest praise is the ability to empty ourselves before God and let Him build up what has broken inside us. Here is the key…

Key Principle: Not all complaints are the same. The heart they come from changes the response we get. Those out of a cold heart toward God, block God’s work in and through us because of our self-centered spirit. He withdraws His blessing and stops teaching us. Yet, when we crumble under the load of real ministry– it is a different story. God offers new resources and new instruction.

On the surface, all complaints may look the same – but they really aren’t. There may be similarities, but that doesn’t mean they are truly the same. Look at yourself in the mirror. Now look at a chimpanzee picture from a local zoo. You get the idea…

How complaints are similar

In our last study, we noted the first mentioned complaints that got an answer from the heavens were about the discomfort of the journey (11:1-3). The people were about eight miles into the journey, and they began to harangue God about discomfort. Because the sound of complaining is about something that hurts us or makes us uncomfortable – it may seem like all complaints are alike. On closer inspection, we noted in our last study the people were leaving the “domain of the gods of Egypt” and were now forced to show trust to the God of Abraham for the trip. These were complaints that assumed God could not do something, that doubted His character – and Heaven viewed those harshly. Next, when the people complained about the conditions –they again were complaining about the character of God. At first glance it appears the people complained about the MENU, but on closer inspection, they asked WHO will feed us – for they were complaining about the CHEF above. Their complaints were doubts of God’s goodness and God’s ability.

Yet, there were other complaints in the text that we did NOT address – those from Moses himself…

A different kind of complaint

Moses offered complaints about the workload to God, and God did not rain down fire from heaven. My question is “Why?” What was different about the complaining voice of Moses?

Look at the text again in Numbers 11:10 “Now Moses heard the people weeping throughout their families, each man at the doorway of his tent; and the anger of the LORD was kindled greatly, and Moses was displeased.

The complaint of Moses to God came from the painful sound of whining and complaining in others. He wasn’t telling God about the conditions, but about the people. The SINS OF OTHERS became the weight on his heart. He was “made MISERABLE” (the word “displeases is Ra’, or evil) by the sounds of the camp. His complaint wasn’t the food or the chef- it was a complaint that the work was TOO HARD for him – he lacked the resources to deal with the problems.

Every believer will face what Moses faced – a sense of overwhelming need and limited self. People can sin faster than we can sort it all out. One lie becomes six while we are dealing with the effects of the first. Gossip can light up phone lines, even when the substance is flatly false or the details mangle the original intent of the story. I don’t have a way to illustrate this more vividly than this: Recently I spent significant resources of time explaining that I wasn’t leaving Grace Church or the ministry – simply because of a story of another Pastor at another church. Gossip flew about, and my name got attached to situations I had no knowledge of, let alone participation in. The bottom line was this: a fire was set by tongues, and resources were needed to put that fire out. I began answering inquiries and making it clear that lines were crossed in communication. I tried to do it with humor, and even that backfired a few times.

Note that Numbers 11:10 made clear that God wasn’t happy with what He heard either. He understood the burden of Moses, and let Moses learn to take his hurt to God…

Numbers 11:11 So Moses said to the LORD, “Why have You been so hard on Your servant? And why have I not found favor in Your sight, that You have laid the burden of all this people on me? 12 “Was it I who conceived all this people? Was it I who brought them forth, that You should say to me, ‘Carry them in your bosom as a nurse carries a nursing infant, to the land which You swore to their fathers’? 13 “Where am I to get meat to give to all this people? For they weep before me, saying, ‘Give us meat that we may eat!’ 14 “I alone am not able to carry all this people, because it is too burdensome for me. 15 “So if You are going to deal thus with me, please kill me at once, if I have found favor in Your sight, and do not let me see my wretchedness.

On first glance, Moses words sound pretty bad– don’t they? He sounds like he is accusing God of dumping people on his lap, and then sticking him with the role of provider. Yet, there is a difference. If we don’t rush past this passage, we will see it, and in the process pick up some vital lessons about an overburdened life. Let me suggest FOUR LESSONS:

Lessons for the Overburdened Life

Lesson One: There is a place we can take the pain of life.

Verse 11 simply says “So Moses said to the LORD”. Note the word at the beginning SO. Because problems overtake us, there is a God-given response. Moses knew it – it was to fall before God. Our Maker is NOT worried that He won’t have all the answers we need. Remember this: “God believes in me; therefore, my situation is never hopeless.” ’We are allowed and heartily encouraged to bring our complaints to God, if we recognize Who God is. Moses didn’t LIKE the position he was in – it was painful and disappointing. At the same time, SHARING SORROW makes half a sorrow. We are designed to feel weight lift when we verbalize it – even if the conditions don’t change in that instant. Sometimes talking a problem through helps us to work through the issue. Often, when we verbalize a complaint to God, we – maybe for the very first time – can hear how dumb we sound! Don’t lose track, though, of the point. There is a place to take our pain – and God will hear us. Complaining voices are often people in desperate need of an extended prayer time. Because of that, I want to deliberately encourage you to get on your knees and watch the burdens get lighter.

Lesson Two: Straight talk to God about our feelings is what God wants to hear.

Verse 11 continues with questions of Moses: ” “Why have You been so hard on Your servant? And why have I not found favor in Your sight, that You have laid the burden of all this people on me?” Look at the two questions. The first one is not quantitative – it is emotional. Why have you placed me in a position that seems beyond my ability to deal with? This is an important question because many believers have been improperly taught God’s Word.

People misquote God on the issue of TROUBLE all the time. They claim that God promised never to put them in a situation they cannot handle. That is flatly untrue. What the Bible consistently says is this: 1 Corinthians 10:13 “No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.” This gets pushed into statements like ‘God will never give you more than you can handle’. The basis for such interpretation is this: the term peirázō originally meant either test or tempt. One Greek lexicon used for study (found in of the New Testament notes: “Context alone determines which sense is intended, or if both apply simultaneously.”

What is the context of the statement of 1 Corinthians 10:13? Look at the verses just before it: “6 Now these things happened as examples for us, so that we would not crave evil things as they also craved. 7 Do not be idolaters, as some of them were; as it is written, “THE PEOPLE SAT DOWN TO EAT AND DRINK, AND STOOD UP TO PLAY.” 8 Nor let us act immorally, as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in one day. 9 Nor let us try the Lord, as some of them did, and were destroyed by the serpents. 10 Nor grumble, as some of them did, and were destroyed by the destroyer. 11 Now these things happened to them as an example, and they were written for our instruction, upon whom the ends of the ages have come. 12 Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed that he does not fall.

Let me say it clearly: God didn’t promise to keep you from any circumstance you cannot handle.

In fact, the truth is the opposite – “Without Me, you can do nothing!” the Savior said in John 15. If we could pull off life without God’s power, without His presence and without His purposes – we wouldn’t need Him. We can’t do it, and God didn’t promise it. Let us pause for a moment and remember: Life is too big for us. It is too hard for us. We cannot do it alone, but as Paul reminded the Philippians “we can do all things through Christ who empowers us.” IF YOU FEEL OVER YOUR HEAD, YOU ARE IN A PERFECT POSITION TO TAKE GOD SERIOUSLY.

Stop thinking that you should be able to “do life” as an adult on your own. You don’t have the power, and you don’t have the ability. Get over yourself and get into Him! He will provide an escape from temptation, but will NOT make it possible for you to accomplish your life mission apart from constant, desperate, and thorough leaning on HIM.

Lesson Three: We learn that PRAISE is a word about intimacy – not just a “feel good time”.

Listen to the words of Moses. Can you hear exhaustion and desperation bordering on collapse? How can we speak of “praise” in such a context? He said: Numbers 11:12 “Was it I who conceived all this people? Was it I who brought them forth, that You should say to me, ‘Carry them in your bosom as a nurse carries a nursing infant, to the land which You swore to their fathers’?

Moses appears to be laying down some heavy complaints – but he is actually praising God. The ancient Hebrew vocabulary included seven different words that are all translated in our Bible as “praise”. One of the most common ones, “tehillah” is a word that implies to “pour myself out” before God – often in a quiet and reflective way, or perhaps even through tears and pain. “Yadah” implies that I will use my hands in clapping, “barach” is pronounced praise with a strong or loud noise. “Halal” and Shebach are “boisterous boasts” in the Lord, showy praise for God’s goodness and character. The point: Not all praise is happy. Some of it is an honest leveling with God as to where we are in life’s journey. God doesn’t get angry at us – even when we are a bit dramatic and over the top. Remember, from where He sits, none of our problems are particularly hard to solve – no matter what they appear to be to us. The reason the Psalmist could “continually praise” the Lord is that he didn’t define all praise as happy.

Moses pointed out that the people WERE NOT HIS. In this he is exactly correct – they are God’s people. Moses pointed out that God made the promises to the fathers – not him. Again, he was correct. When our hearts are broken and our lives are stressed out, we must remember that the burden of life is not ours to carry, but rather ours to marvel as God carries it all. We must be faithful to serve our one and only Master, but we must not fall victim to OWNING the work. My children are not my own – they are His. I am a steward – nothing more. I must remember that my wife, my cars, my home, all that I have –also belongs exclusively to Him. I am the manager, but He is the owner. When something happens that I cannot and do not control – the owner knows. When I do not follow through on responsibility – the owner also knows. No matter what it looks like, no matter who blames me – God knows what IS my fault, and what is not, what IS my responsibility – and what is someone else’s improper boundary.

Let us rehearse this aloud: If I am a steward, I must live this life seeking God’s approval, and doing God’s bidding. I should not own responsibilities HE does not give me, but I must also not shirk the responsibilities He HAS assigned to me. Life is simpler when I recognize WHOSE approval I ultimately seek.

Lesson Four: We grow to recognize that as we lay things out before God, we reveal the real problems at the heart of our complaints.

Moses needed resources, and Moses desired assistance. He was a man in desperate need of a good team of ministry around him. He said: Numbers 11:13 “Where am I to get meat to give to all this people? For they weep before me, saying, ‘Give us meat that we may eat!’ 14 “I alone am not able to carry all this people, because it is too burdensome for me. 15 “So if You are going to deal thus with me, please kill me at once, if I have found favor in Your sight, and do not let me see my wretchedness.”

As he verbalized his feeling before God, it became perfectly clear – he wasn’t trying to take on more than his job – he was unfairly matched to the size of God’s appointed responsibility and was throwing himself on the mercy of God to get him through the day. If you have every found yourself in this position, you know there are some good things that can come from it. It is a humbling experience, and God gives grace to the humble. It is a clarifying experience, and good leaders need to learn to be clear about the problems in order to affect solutions. Many will find symptoms of the problem, but the leader needs to carefully follow the symptom trails all the way back to the actual problem. Time pouring out before God helps to set it all in front of both God and I, so He can do His work in and through me.

These four lessons are helpful, but the passage offers more. It pulls back the curtain on God’s response, and that is encouraging!

How did God respond to a believer who was honestly broken by the load?

Response #1: God assigned the part that Moses should complete.

16 The LORD therefore said to Moses, “Gather for Me seventy men from the elders of Israel, whom you know to be the elders of the people and their officers and bring them to the tent of meeting, and let them take their stand there with you.

God didn’t simply wave His hand and make the problem go away – that isn’t His way. God instructed Moses how to respond, and gave him an opportunity to participate in the answer to the problem. God let Moses help build a system that would alleviate the struggle in the future. He added to Moses ability by TAKING AWAY some of his control and participation. Moses gave up control in exchange for peace. Micromanagers cannot build teams – because they need full control. Disciple makers and mentors need to be able to surrender parts of the work to others – or they will burn out.

That isn’t as intuitive as it seems. The spontaneous response of our modern culture is to add detail to our lives – more choices, more options, more commitments, more purchases, more jobs. God did the opposite for Moses – and TOOK HIM OUT of the path. True, Moses had to gather the men together. Yet, after that, God took work OFF of him through this process. The key was that God gave Moses the choice to obey and simplify or fully control and keep all the stress.

Let me ask you a question: Are you overburdened because you won’t give up control of everything?

There are two truths that must be carefully pondered about modern life. First, Humans have a limited capacity for meaningful productivity, and second, few modern men and women seem to know when they are reaching their capacity. We commit to too much, want too many options and live in too much complexity. We sleep too little and waste too much time in meaningless entertainments that we cannot even remember. Tell me how many TV shows you can even recall the next day? For most modern people, there is a nostalgic longing for simpler times…One of the great secrets of days long past was that in fewer choices is less anxiety. I am not arguing that we don’t like having greater selection – but the higher level of choice brings with it greater stress.

Think of driving down a street in a nearby small town. The houses are set back from the street with green lawns. The sidewalks run beside both sides of the lane. You can drive thirty-five miles an hour and still see the picture of the lost dog stuck to the side of the telephone pole… Now put yourself in southern California on an eight lane highway with two overpasses – one above the other. Signage on the lower overpass indicates the various destinations of each lane – and the choices are many – but so is the stress level. Cars are whizzing by and you are trying to figure out what lane you need to make your way into. You have more choices, and they all sound exciting. At the same time, you are more likely to arrive at your destination frazzled and undone.

One of the biggest reasons we have too little margin in life is our own inability to choose what we SHOULD be a part of, and to say “NO!” to things that we should pass by on the highway of life. For some of us, we need to be warned: Busyness can become its own addiction – but addicts aren’t peaceful people by nature. Perhaps we need to look at the part God assigned to US, and let others do the other part.

Response #2: God promised a real and tangible answer to the backbreaking load – it was found in other people.

17 “Then I will come down and speak with you there, and I will take of the Spirit who is upon you, and will put Him upon them; and they shall bear the burden of the people with you, so that you will not bear it all alone….24 So Moses went out and told the people the words of the LORD. Also, he gathered seventy men of the elders of the people, and stationed them around the tent.

God loves TEAM WORK. He multiplies the strength of a work by dividing the work among many. He didn’t chide Moses for saying the work was too great – He spread the work out. He took the load and re-distributed the weight with a system that would be more enduring. As we think about Moses with all his history with God and his great strength of character, forged in experiences with God’s power and enlightened with God’s Spirit within, we need to be warned – No person can tolerate ever-escalating overload without eventually feeling the pain of the weight. Dr. Swenson enumerated the levels of modern American stress:

• We live in a time with change overload – for millennia change was painfully slow – but now whole nations are felled in a single day. That makes the moves of any government administration more stressful, because we don’t know how far we can fall how fast.

• We live in a time of choice overload – in 1980 the average supermarket has 12,000 items; in 2010 that number averaged in excess of 30,000. There are now 186 different breakfast cereal choices alone. Satellite TV offered you 1,100 movie choices last month.

• We live in a time of commitment overload – most of us have too many relationships and too many responsibilities to do any well. We take too many courses, make too many appointments and try to be the solution to too many problems.

• We live in a time of debt overload – our whole country is awash in red ink.

• We live in a time of decision overload – each year we have more decisions to make, with less time to make them. This isn’t only about purchases, it is about health care plans, retirement options, real estate purchases, tax implications.. and that is just getting started.

• We won’t even detail fatigue overload, hurry overload, information overload, media overload, noise overload, personal interaction overload, possession overload, technology overload, traffic overload and work overload.

Even though stress and overload are everywhere in our modern world – it shows in different ways in different people. Moses internalized the weight and cried out to God to kill him – a sure sign of depression brought on by inner stress. Others show it in anxiety, outbursts of hostility and blame, or more subtle resentments. Overload turns work and fellow workers into the enemy – even if we love what we do! Part of God’s solution was the TEAM that Moses formed. Build one in your life. Cut out what you are doing that God hasn’t called you to do, and let others take a whack at it. Don’t be lazy – be intentional. Try doing less, but doing it better. Could it be that you aren’t HANDING OFF some work that should be someone else’s to complete?

Response #3: God offered Divine assistance to the men who were following Him.

God wasn’t done with the formation of the team – He did something that made the whole work hum… He empowered all of them with His Spirit.

25 Then the LORD came down in the cloud and spoke to him; and He took of the Spirit who was upon him and placed Him upon the seventy elders. And when the Spirit rested upon them, they prophesied. But they did not do it again. 26 But two men had remained in the camp; the name of one was Eldad and the name of the other Medad. And the Spirit rested upon them (now they were among those who had been registered, but had not gone out to the tent), and they prophesied in the camp.

For me there would be no greater joy than to see others learning to do the work, and empowered by God to do it well! I LIVE for such a day! The most exciting part of ministry is that God has a gifting in each of you, and He can energize you to do what no one else can do! Moses shared that sense of ministry, I know he did! How do I know? Keep reading!

27 So a young man ran and told Moses and said, “Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp.” 28 Then Joshua the son of Nun, the attendant of Moses from his youth, said, “Moses, my lord, restrain them.” 29 But Moses said to him, “Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the LORD’S people were prophets, that the LORD would put His Spirit upon them!” 30 Then Moses returned to the camp, both he and the elders of Israel.

Moses was excited (not jealous) that others had God’s Spirit. God took Moses into the work that was too big for him, so that God could work on Moses’ heart and show him His faithfulness and inexhaustible power. God held him tightly, and let him cry out when he couldn’t handle the pressure. He granted Moses more margin in his life, because he brought his problem to the Lord honestly, and poured himself out before God.

Not all complaints are the same. The heart they come from changes the response we get.

Those out of a cold heart toward God, block God’s work in and through us because of our self-centeredness spirit. He withdraws His blessing and stops teaching us. Yet, when we crumble under the load of real ministry– it is a different story. God offers new resources and new instruction.